Tension in the halls of Justice
The Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, has downplayed tensions between him and the President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati.
He has also denied attempting to influence the decision making by the President of the Land and Titles Court.
“I did not give any instructions to him what-so-ever,” Fa’aolesa said. “My letter he is referencing; was merely a request for him not to consider a complaint for a case that had been resolved back in 2011.”
The Minister made the points in response to questions from the Sunday Samoan in relation to a letter from the President to the Minister dated 15 September 2017.
Written by President Fepulea’i to the Minister, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, the Chief Justice His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu, Judge Vaepule Vaemoa Vaai and the Court Registrar are copied.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by the Sunday Samoan, Fepulea’i makes it succinctly clear the Minister cannot tell the President of Land and Titles Court what to do.
“I was considering whether to reply to your letter dated 13 September 2017, as I am aware of our different levels of positions,” a translation of the letter written in Samoan reads.
“However, there are accusations levelled at me that I should respond to and will perhaps help clarify to you and assure you that there was nothing wrong that was done to influence the investigation and decision of the Appeals Court LC.11728 (1 September 2017) where you led your Family’s side, that is the subject of a letter of grievance that you have submitted.
“This is especially so since it wasn’t too long ago that you wrote another letter on 1 August 2017 where you have instructed myself not to reply to Seumanutafa Tiavolo’s letter that was given to me in a separate matter of your Family as well, that was given to you by the Registrar even though you were not copied.
Your letter came first before the Registrar gave me the letter by Seumanutafa Tiavolo. If it is special treatment that you Honourable Minister is seeking, I apologize I will not give you that.
“Although you may have noticed the gap between my non-response to your letter dated 1 August 2017, and your letter dated 13 September 2017, I need to officially inform you that the President does not need any advice or direction from the Minister of Justice in any way pertaining to the Lands and Titles Court decision-making. If anyone is to understand this well, it should be those who have been well schooled in the law.”
Fepulea’i also rejected a call from the Minister for him to step aside in some of the cases.
“You have already given your opinion that I should stand down from any of your cases, and that is a bad example for the country, as your opinion is based on suspicions and unfounded and unconfirmed allegations,” the letter reads.
“Especially since there were matters like these that were submitted that I have rejected, so that the overdue cases can be dealt with, as this has been an area where the Lands and Titles Court has been criticized for. But there is also a court guideline that we follow, it is up to the Courts if there is any connection, if they can handle a case without any bias towards that connection.
“I do not have any connection to you, there is no reason for any bias towards you or any other side that you are in court against, and I will not do this. That is why I am happy and willing to handle any case that involves you, and I conduct them without any bias. This is why I reject your suggestion that I step aside, unless it is an order from the Supreme Court to prevent me from handling any of your family’s cases.”
President Fepulea’i also gives the Minister an opportunity to take the matter further.
“All cases already before the Appeals Court involving yourself will be postponed from this month of September 2017, to give you the chance to apply to the Supreme Court for any suitable provision to prevent me from taking part in the Group that will handle your Family’s cases. If there is no solution forthcoming this year 2017, your Family in Apia’s cases will be rescheduled to the new year, 2018.
“In case you do not know, Judges are no longer allowed to take part in any sides of their families in any court cases, so that the integrity of the Court is upheld and this is in line with the perception that the Court is administering justice, so that the general public will have faith in our judicial system, perhaps it will also be easy for the Minister of Justice to practice this so that people can believe in the Courts which he is Minister of.
“If not, perhaps it will be easier for the Leader of Government to reshuffle Ministerial portfolios and place you in another Ministry, then the Minister of Justice may not be criticized for leading his family’s side in a court case, and we wouldn’t be engaged in this, which has taken up valuable time that could have been used for work.
“This way too, you will be able to devote your time and efforts to doing something good for the general public as it is not too long to go now, only 3 more years left, but leave your family’s dealings to others so that you don’t have to tell us how to do our jobs.
“But your comment that ‘you thought that there is one God that we both place our trust in and do his righteousness or justice’, I don’t know about you, but the God in whom I trust is the same God that I swore an oath to when I was chosen as the President, the same God that Samoa is founded on, God the Holy Trinity.
“He is the one that I will pray to, that he may look on you with love and give you peace and reassure you that no wrong thing was done in your family’s case.”
During an interview with the Sunday Samoan, the Minister rejected suggestions that he was telling the President what to do.
“I wrote to him as a chief in my family and as a private citizen,” the Minister said. He showed the Sunday Samoan a copy of his letter.
“As you can see my letter here; it was not printed on a letter head of the Ministry. I did not in any manner try or interfere with the work of the Court, that is not my style. “I wrote as a private citizen. And I said – ‘it is a request to your honour’. Even at the conclusion, I stated ‘your honor should not consider a complaint for a case that has already been settled’.”
The Minister explained that his letter was about a case in his family before he became a Member of Parliament.
“I bestowed chiefly titles to men in my family back in 2011 and that is what the issue is about. There was a case in 2012 and our family won the case and the chiefly titles were honored.
“Another chief has written to the Land and Titles President asking him to re-open the case…. it is 2017 now. Ho w can they re-open a case that’s been settled some five years ago?
“That is the whole purpose behind my 1 August, 2017 letter. It was a request to the President. I am party to the case and I am entitled to write to him as a private citizen, regarding that case.
“I did not in any manner use my capacity as Minister of Justice. No one in the right mind would do such a thing.
“Just because I am a Minister does not take away the fact that I am a private citizen,” said Fa’aolesa.
“How can a private citizen tell the President of the Lands and Titles, how do his job. I did not give him any instructions; I repeat… it was a request made by a private citizen.”
The Minister did not wish to comment on other aspects of the President’s letter.