Chief Justice Patu exits with message to peers

Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava'asu'e Falefatu Sapolu has called on his peers to continue to uphold the independence, impartiality and the integrity of the Judiciary.

This was his departing message to the sitting Judges and the new Chief Justice, who is yet to be announced. 

The longest serving Chief Justice in the history of Samoa, the 68-year-old retires Tuesday after serving 26 years on the bench as the country's chief judge. 

A ceremonial sitting will be convened in the Supreme Court for the Chief Justice on Tuesday morning to mark his final day on the bench and his official retirement. 

The Chief Justice was appointed to office in 1992 by the late Prime Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana. Prior to his appointment as the Chief Justice, he was working at his private law firm which had only been established a year before. 

“I never had any wish or aspiration to be a Chief Justice, when I was approached for the position. As a matter of fact it took me a whole month to consider my options before I accepted the proposition,” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer at his residence. 

“And I want to thank the late Tofilau for giving me the opportunity to serve our country through the Office of the Chief Justice,” he said. 

The Chief Justice also spoke of the prominence of every case regardless of what the issue was. 

“To me, all the cases that I have heard and decided on are important. The reason is that it is important to the parties and I have always tried to arrive at a fair and just decision. 

“All cases are important and I have dealt with cases that come before me on that basis. 

“Many people think that the cases which attract public interest, cases that are newsworthy if I may put it that way, are the important cases, I understand that from public points of view that some cases are more important than others, but to me as a Judge every case that I’ve had to deal with is important.

"Not because of the public attention it attracts, but because to me the issue that has to be decided is important to the parties,” he explained. 

While being a judge was time consuming and had its challenges, the departing Chief Justice said he gave it his all and his grateful for his wife and family's support.

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“It is a very absorbing job and it took up nearly all of my time and energy. And there was hardly any time for me to be involved with taking care of my family that task fell on my wife. And I am very grateful for my wife for having to put up with me while I devote my time and energy to my judicial work as Chief Justice."

A High Chief of Vaiala, the Chief Justice is married to Iliganoa close to 30 years and have three children. 

The Chief Justice also took the opportunity to commend the spouses of the sitting judges for their never ending support. 

“The public doesn’t know judicial work is hard work. It is time consuming and I know some of my judicial colleagues continue with their work when they’re home. 

"And I think our spouses deserve a thank you because if the Judge is going to work full time, so who is going to do the work at home? 

“Who will be responsible? It will be the spouses; they are unsung heroes who have the heart to put up with us as we continue to take out work to our homes. 

“And I am not the only judge doing this,” he told the Samoa Observer. 

The Chief Justice concluded the interview with this newspaper with a strong message to his peers and reminded them of the democratic pillars that Samoa embraced as a nation. 

“Continue to uphold the independence and impartiality and the integrity of the judiciary. In any democracy the rule of law is essential and in order for the rule of law to function properly, you need and independent and impartial judicial.

“If the judiciary is not independence and impartial then democracy is at risk because this is one of the pillars upon which democracy is built, you need a system of independent and impartial courts,” he added. 

The other pillar that completes democracy in any country, according to the Chief Justice, is the Legislative. 

“Of course the other pillar of democracy is Parliament of the people.”

The Chief Justice said when one is taken away, democracy in Samoa will be at risk of collapsing.

When asked to elaborate whether the independence of the judiciary was at risk at any point, the Chief Justice declined to answer. 

“I prefer not to answer that question. But put it this way, the Government has been so good to the Judiciary over all the years. The Judiciary has received considerable assistance from the Executive, and one good example is the courthouse that we now have,” he added.

An alumni of the Marist school, the Chief Justice holds a bachelors and master degree in law. He is from the village of Vaiala and was also Attorney General for three terms under the administration of the late Tofilau. 

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