Minister stripped of authority over moving court files
The Minister of Justice Courts and Administration has been stripped of his authority to move official records outside the vicinity of court premises under newly passed legislation.
The new amendments were approved by Parliament in December under the Land and Titles Court Act 2020.
A prohibition on the removal of court files was among several changes to the legislation that was passed into law on 15 December.
The Land and Titles Court Act 2020 stipulates that no person shall have access to the records of the court except with the permission of the President or the Registrar.
The law further states that no person shall remove the records of or in relation to the court except with the permission of the President and only for the purposes of the court.
A fine not exceeding 50 penalty units ($100) or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or both is the penalty for breaching the prohibitions.
Discussions on such amendments surfaced two years ago when concerns were raised after the incumbent Minister of Justice, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’um was accused of removing court files.
At the time, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi was of the view that the law gave the Minister of Justice the authority to direct the movement of court files.
In 2016 Land and Titles Court files were removed from the court premises and taken to Minister Fa’aolesa’s office.
The files were delivered by an employee of the Ministry of Justice Courts and Administration (M.J.C.A.), Tualima Pio, and the secretary of the Ministry’s former C.E.O., Papali’I John Taimalelagi.
Mr. Pio had claimed he was instructed by his superior to deliver the files.
He said that he had reported the matter to the then Chief Justice before he told the Samoa Observer about it.
The employee alleged that he delivered the files – which were in relation to the Ainu’u title of Sapapali’i and another about boundaries of Atua – from court grounds to the Minister’s office.
An investigation by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.), into the removal of the files and other matters at the Ministry was later launched and led to the termination of Papali’i's contract, who also faced other P.S.C. charges.