Fleeing fugitives - is the system incompetent?

By The Editorial Board 08 December 2023, 10:00AM

There is a disconnect between the various arms of the government and a synergy to have inter-ministerial cooperation is clearly absent and as such people charged with various offences are able to leave the country either temporarily or for good.

On 7 December, 2023, Samoa Observer published an article titled ‘Alleged rapist flees country’. A man facing rape charges before the Supreme Court managed to slip through the border for seasonal work because there was no departure prohibition order to stop him from flying out of Samoa.

The defendant is charged with sexual connection with a young girl who is his stepdaughter and was due to appear before the Court on Friday last week.

This is not the first time this has happened. A similar incident occurred in March 2020 when a man charged with attempted murder managed to leave the jurisdiction for seasonal work in Australia.

That man was Junior Vaitutuu Timu and had no departure prohibition order to prevent him from leaving Samoa.

In another case another seasonal worker left the country in 2016 to 2018 by using his brother’s identity to get a new passport. He was charged and sentenced by the District Court in 2020 upon his return to Samoa.

The Office of the Attorney General did not apply for a departure prohibition order to stop the defendant from leaving the jurisdiction. It was also discovered that the Labour Mobility Unit did not have records of the defendant being contracted and employed by a New Zealand company for fruit picking.

But the relatives of the defendant claimed the defendant left the country for seasonal work for six months.

The first thing that needs to be done to avoid such incidents from happening in the future is for the prosecution to ask the court in any indictable offence for the accused to surrender their passport and issue departure prohibition orders. This way the accused does not have his passport and the immigration has the person flagged as a person of interest.

In any jurisdiction, for an accused person to leave a country, an order is required from the court because there are times when the accused may require medical treatment or for major family emergencies. In any court matter, when the defendant does not appear in court without a valid reason, a bench warrant is issued and from that point he becomes a fugitive.

It has also been discovered in many such cases, the accused do not give their full names and Samoans are blessed with long names. The police when preparing charge sheets need to get proper identification of the accused and have that name entered on the records, so there is no mistake on who has been charged.

The best solution is one that may take a bit of time. This requires digitalisation of records and a synergy between police, immigration, the seasonal employment unit and the judiciary so whenever an accused person’s name is entered on the database, all those records would show. This has to be done in a manner where the privacy of the person is not violated yet it is ensured that justice is being done.

This is not a good standpoint if you are employers from Australia and New Zealand where they are basically employing fugitives who legally do not have the right to leave their country. There have also been incidents where people have gone for seasonal work and created problems and committed crimes. This does not look good for Samoa.

When an accused escapes a jurisdiction, he or she delays court procedures and justice delayed is justice denied. The assumption of innocence until proven guilty still stands but what of the justice to the victims of sexual offences or family of those murdered.

A reader commented online after reading the article: “Do they have a policy in place that once individuals are charged with a crime, they are put on a no-fly list, so they don't leave Samoa while charges are pending? Not just once, but three times that we know of. Now, this accused rapist is in another country. I hope the company and New Zealand authorities return this individual to Samoa. The victim has to wait six months for justice because of incompetent people.”

It may not be the incompetency of people but perhaps of the system. There are some things which do not require changes in law, just changes in policy.

Such incidents also continue to show how vulnerable Samoa’s border is. The authorities are being urged to make the right decisions to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

By The Editorial Board 08 December 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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