L.T.C. bills signed into law

Bills restructuring Samoa's judicial system and changing the constitution received the assent of the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaelealiifano Valetoa Sualauvia II, who signed them into law on Tuesday.

The Assistant Attorney General and Chief Public Solicitor, Sefo Ainuu, confirmed the bills had been signed in response to an email from the Samoa Observer. 

The Land and Titles Court Bill 2020, Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 and the Judicature Amendment Bill 2020 passed their third reading in Parliament on Tuesday 15 December last year.

Following a phone call with the Office of the Legislative Assembly, the Samoa Observer understands hard copies of the laws, which drew considerable opposition from legal experts in Samoa and abroad, will be made available to the public for purchase from Friday at the latest.

There is no date for when the bills will be uploaded to the Parliament website, palemene.ws. When they are, they will be available in both English and Samoan.

The three bills were first tabled in Parliament in March last year. 

They were immediately met with concern from the legal fraternity and judiciary.

Together, the three bills create an independent Land and Titles Court with its own appeal and review court structure and remove the authority of the Supreme Court to review its decisions. 

They also introduce a raft of changes to customary law, the supervision of judges, and according to their critics, threaten Samoa’s rule of law.

After their second reading, the bills were handed over to a Special Parliamentary Committee tasked with gathering public opinion on the proposed changes.

That committee was led by veteran Parliamentarian Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow, and a nationwide consultation was conducted between June and October 2020.

Despite this, criticism against the bills continued. 

And following their passage in December, social group Samoa Solidarity International Group (S.S.I.G.). took to the Head of State’s residence in Vailele to protest and demand he not assent the bills with this signature, as he is required to by law.

The Office of the Attorney General has already been notified that a legal challenge against the bills is incoming.

Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, a partner of Latu Lawyers, said her clients’ case asks whether the new laws breach fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution.

The Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the proposed changes to the justice system, and the treatment of the judiciary is allowed under Samoa’s constitution.

The challenge will ask whether any of the new laws breach the protected fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, including a new proposed article of the Constitution detailing the new structure of the Land and Titles Court.

It will also challenge whether the three bills were accompanied by appropriate consultation for measures that changed the constitution and the treatment of matai titles and customary land.

The Samoa Observer understands other legal firms, both local and international, have been engaged to mount similar challenges. 

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