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Court moves trial date, Judge not impressed

A Supreme Court Justice has expressed disappointment at the increasing number of lawyers not prepared to proceed with trial, and “reluctantly” agreed to vacate a trial date to allow the defense counsel to attend a fa’alavelave in Savai’i.

Presiding over a murder trial, Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke noted defense lawyer, Leota Tima Leavai, had sought an adjournment but the assessor’s trial was scheduled for five days starting on Wednesday this week.

“Ms. Leavai has sought for the hearing to proceed but for Friday and Monday to be set aside to allow Counsel to attend the fa’alavelave; the prosecution opposes such a position but does not object to the hearing date being vacated and remains on the call over,” said Justice Leiataualesa.

The defendant in the murder trial is, Francis Sautiaimalae Molia, who is facing charges of murder and attempted murder, in relation to the death of an 18-year-old boy who was stabbed to death in town last year.

Prosecuting the matter were lawyers, Fuifui Ioane and Lucy Maria Sio-Ofoia, of the Attorney General's Office.

 Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, there were close to 20 people including witnesses for the prosecution.

Justice Leiataualesa expressed concern about the adjournment sought by the defense counsel and asked why it was not sorted out during call over.

“The issue is that this matter should have been raised at call over so that the expense both to the Ministry and the cost of summonses, the witnesses and assessors is not being inconvenienced by this matter set down for hearing and not proceeding on hearing date.

Is there any reason why this matter was not raised during call over,” he asked.

In response, Leota said she was not aware of the number of the days for the trial.

“That morning I was prepared for a court of appeal hearing and so I was at the call overs, but I was distracted. I was getting ready for a hearing of the Court of appeal and that was my priority on that day,” she explained to the Court.

But Justice Leiataualesa intervened, saying: “What concerns me is this is a murder trial as well as an attempted murder trial against your client with two alleged victims.”

However, Leota, in a bid to make a correction to the charge, said it was a manslaughter matter. 

Justice Leiataualesa, in response, said it is a concern that the defense counsel is not prepared to proceed despite the serious nature of the charges against her client. 

“It is for murder. It concerns me deeply that counsel with such serious matters facing her client is not prepared to proceed or it has not read call over list properly, because that is the reason why the court has a call over list.  If counsels are not reading the call over list correctly, then that is a serious concern.

“And we are then left in a position we are in today, with prosecution ready to proceed with all their witnesses; assessors summoned ready to hear this case and a matter that counsel should have identified on Thursday so all of this could have been averted. 

“This is not a fa’alavelave that has come out of nowhere I assume.”

Justice Leiataualesa then pointed to court costs and called out counsels over their lack of preparation for their trials. 

“This is happening too often where counsel are ill prepared and come to call over. We have call over for six weeks and time and again I am ready to proceed for hearing, and appear on the date of hearing and seek for the matters to be adjourned or vacated the defendants are ready the parties are here and people want their matter dispensed with,” he added.

Justice Leiataualesa said the court is considering granting the application with costs to be paid by counsel.

“For the application by Miss Leavai and there being no objection by prosecution for reasons that there is a faalavelave in Savaii that defense counsel must attend, reluctantly the court will vacate the hearing of this matter,” he said. 

“I make clear for the record that this was entirely avoidable with proper preparation by Counsel and this should have not occurred.”

The issue of costs will be heard before the court next week Thursday.

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