Winds of change in the halls of justice

By The Editorial Board 25 January 2023, 6:00AM

It is great to see a Government office, which only two years ago got hit by successive waves of resignations of key personnel, start to get back on its feet with new appointments to critical positions.

Samoa’s Attorney General Su’a Hellene Wallwork recently announced the appointment of four Assistant Attorneys General to lead the four legal divisions within the Office. They’ve filled in vacant positions in the Office, which according to the Attorney General had been unoccupied for some time.

Congratulations to the new appointees and divisional heads at the Attorney General’s Office: Leilua Sosefina Faamausili (Commercial & International Laws Division), Leota Leitu Moananu-Morin (Legislative Drafting Division), Letoafaiga Lalau David J. Fong (Civil Litigation and Opinion Division) and Lupematasila Iliganoa Atoa (Criminal Prosecution Division).

Looking at some of the pressing issues within Samoa’s law and justice sector that need addressing, we can already see these new appointments at the Attorney General’s Office having a positive effect.

One area of concern emanating from one or two cases last year, which were directly related to the work of the Attorney General’s Office and specifically that of the Criminal Prosecution Division, has been the downgrading of serious criminal charges against an accused to lesser charges often to the surprise and disappointment of the victims’ families.

Another area of concern is the quality of drafting of Government-sponsored legislation and whether there should be a review of the legislative process for the drafting of acts of parliament, following the 2020 Land and Titles Court (LTC) Acts debacle which has put the spotlight on the skill of legal drafting in Samoa.

But just as the promotions were announced for the key positions at the Attorney General’s Office, the country was formally advised of the exit of current Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren. 

Citing personal reasons, Justice Tuala-Warren steps down in March this year, which will bring down the curtain on a distinguished legal career that spanned close to a decade. Her contribution to the establishment of the Family Court and the Family Violence Court in Samoa – the only one of its kind in the Pacific islands outside of New Zealand – to this day ensures the wheels of justice continue to turn for the most vulnerable in our community and is among the departing Justice’s notable achievements.

Her staunch defence of our most vulnerable, through her work as a Justice on the Supreme Court bench, has led to the conviction of murderers and rapists with life sentences among the maximum penalties she has ruled in favour of. There is no doubt the departure of Justice Tuala-Warren from the Supreme Court bench will leave big shoes to fill.

For a glimpse of how Justice Tuala-Warren ruled without fear or favour while on the bench, we have to take you back to a Court proceeding in May 2020. The then Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, wrote to the C.E.O. of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration in a letter dated 9 March 2020 that sought an explanation over the granting of bail to the accused Lema’i Faioso Sione and Paulo Malele. Tuilaepa was the complainant in that matter.

In the letter, the then Prime Minister queried court policy when it came to granting bail to criminal defendants.

For the cases of Lema’i and Malele’s bail specifically, Tuilaepa objected to them being granted bail without cost. The letter was copied to Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, President of the Lands and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati and Justice Tuala-Warren. 

During the hearing of the particular proceeding, Justice Tuala-Warren highlighted the inappropriate nature of the correspondence from the head of government at that time.

“I informed counsel that I had chosen to ignore the correspondence as it has no bearing on the matter before me,” Justice Tuala-Warren told the hearing. 

“As counsel knows, communications of this type to a judicial officer is inappropriate from any party or person connected to any Court proceedings. 

“This is because such correspondence has the potential to undermine confidence in the justice system, the integrity of the criminal process and can prejudice an accused’s right to a fair and impartial trial.”

A year after that exchange in the Courtroom at Mulinu’u in May 2020, Justice Tuala-Warren and her fellow Supreme Court Justices upheld Samoa’s Constitution as the country was plunged into a constitutional crisis following the 2021 General Election. Their determination and resolve as the defenders of the country’s Constitution now recorded in the annals of Samoan history. 

The monumental effort of the good Justices together with Justice Tuala-Warren, we hope, will inspire generations of Samoan lawyers and future Justices to come and compel all of us to uphold and believe in the rule of law and its place in Samoa's democracy. 

By The Editorial Board 25 January 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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