N.Z. Law Society express support for judiciary

The New Zealand Law Society has expressed support for Samoa’s judiciary while appealing for the upholding of the rule of law and the respecting of court decisions.

The N.Z.L.S. released a statement on Thursday – which raised concerns at recent attacks targeting the Samoan judiciary as the country continues to grapple with a two-month-old constitutional crisis – after the 9 April 2021 general election saw the Human Rights Protection Party suffer heavy defeat and the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party victory when it won 25 constituency seats.

Both parties recorded 25 constituency seats each after polling, leaving Independent M.P. Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio with the decision to break the deadlock when he chose F.A.S.T. over the H.R.P.P. to lead to a series of events including attempts to revoke April's election results, which were later ruled unconstitutional and unlawful by the Supreme Court.

While acknowledging that Samoa is an independent sovereign nation with its own legal system, customs and fa’a Samoa, the N.Z.L.S. President Tiana Epati emphasised that in any democracy the proper avenue to challenge and test decisions by the Courts is through the appeals process.

She said legal and constitutional issues can only be addressed through the normal judicial process including appeals and these processes are on foot and their outcomes should be respected.

“Following the recent Court of Appeal decision, it is timely to reflect on the rule of law and to remember that all parties must abide by the decisions of the courts,” she said.

“They should not undermine or attack the legitimacy of judges who are fulfilling their judicial oaths through the exercise of their independent and impartial judgment.”

According to Ms. Epati, judicial independence is a core value of the international community, and Samoa is committed to this as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Trust in the independence of the courts and respect for the rule of law are critical to democratic government,” she said.

“This means that all parties are accountable to the law and subject to the decisions of the courts. When this is undermined, lawyers have a duty to speak out.

“It is important to remember at this time that lawyers are bound by the oath we swear on admission to the profession to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice.

“While these are fundamental obligations imposed by statute in New Zealand, they are also obligations that apply equally to lawyers in Samoa.”

Ms. Epati also said that their concerns about developments in Samoa have been relayed to New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The sentiments expressed by N.Z.L.S. President came a month after the Samoa Law Society also released a statement defending the Samoan judiciary over what it described as “derogatory statements” that questioned the independence and integrity of the Courts.

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