Lawyer calls for review of judgment debt

Parliament should review the law enforcing judgment debts in civil cases, says a senior lawyer. 

Speaking to Samoa Observer in a personal capacity, Su’a Hellene Wallwork – who is also the Vice President of the Samoa Law Society – said jailing civil debtors like criminals is not right. 

“Borrowers are taking out small loans of about $300 that attract hefty penalties and interest rates once a repayment is missed,” she said. 

“It doesn’t take long before a borrower becomes a judgment debtor and then a prisoner.”

Su’a said that there are other enforcement options for unpaid loans instead of imprisonment. 

“The worst part about this process is that after being locked up for about three to eight weeks at a time, the debt is still not cleared." 

“I was horrified when I met a lady, who had been locked up three times for the same debt that remained payable, despite her time spent at Tafaigata prison. This is not the justice that I am aware of,” she added.  

More work needs to be done and appropriate laws and policies need to be developed to address this issue, Su’a added.

“Justice should not only be available to the wealthy or the small number of people, who are lucky enough to find a lawyer available to do their case for free, or on a contingency arrangement. If we want to improve access to justice in Samoa, then the Government must set up the Community Law Centre sooner rather than later." 

“Alternatively, and perhaps a more cost effective option to consider, the Government can develop its legal aid program to include civil matters so that the private sector solicitors can take on more work that serve the needs of the more vulnerable members of our society,” she said.

An earlier article stated the law enforcement authorities have only been able to affect 65 per cent of warrants issued by the Courts in the 2016-2017 financial years. 

A report by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration revealed that this has been an issue for the ministry over the years with payments at default because offenders migrate, death, change in residential address and names, non-compliance and dishonesty.

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