Court overhaul still in Fiame's sights

The Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party leader, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, denies her party is going easy on the controversial suite of judicial reforms that led to her shock resignation from Cabinet last September.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame said the references to the Land and Titles Court Act 2020, Judicature Act 2020, and Constitution Amendment Act 2020 in the party manifesto released last week are a signal the party intends to act to reverse them. 

The three laws were enacted earlier this month only a year after being read for the first time in Parliament. Together, they create an entirely new court for the Land and Titles Court outside of the authority of the Supreme Court, which critics argue threatens Samoans’ rights to a fair trial.

Other changes included in the legislation are rules around the hiring and firing of judges, allowing old cases to be reopened after they have been closed, and provisions that empower the Prime Minister in the appointment of judges.

Critics, including Fiame, have said collectively the changes undermine the separation of powers between Government, Parliament and the Judiciary which Samoa’s democracy rests on.

After she left Cabinet and quit the Human Rights Protection Party she entered Parliament in, Fiame toured the country campaigning on the issues she saw in the bills and called on citizens to demand their Members of Parliament to vote them down.

In the F.A.S.T. Party Manifesto however, it is not clear that if given the opportunity, Fiame’s party would try and strike them out.

“There is a need to review legislation that are in conflict with the Constitution that compromises the independence and duties of Parliament, the Judiciary and Executive,” the manifesto says.

“Some will be repealed while others amended so that the legislative framework can provide adequate support to the socio-economic development of Samoa.”

More specifically, the plan says that F.A.S.T. will “review legislations affected by changes in the roles of the three arms of Government.”

Fiame says committing to any more definitive pledge is harder now that the three pieces of legislation have become law.

“We put down [that] we were reviewing some, [that] we’re going to repeal some. It’s difficult [to commit now] now because it is now actually law. We are treading a very fine line if you say you’re going to repeal it or if you say you don’t want to follow that law,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“It just needs some careful treatment.”

F.A.S.T. also claims it will repeal the laws which make church ministers pay tax, in particular those who serve parishes rather than act as employees of their church.

Fiame said she can directly call for that law to be repealed because it has a narrower reach, rather than the three acts affecting the judiciary. 

“The difference is, it’s one group of people,” she said.


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