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A.G.'s office facing lack of prosecutors

Mounting workloads, low salaries, a lack of career progression and talent leaving for the private sector has left the Attorney-General’s Office without experienced prosecutors, the Samoa Observer can reveal.

The concerns are outlined in the Attorney General’s office annual report for Financial Year 2018-2019.

The report has not been made public but was tabled in Parliament last month. 

“Other than the Assistant Attorney General, only two prosecutors are able to conduct assessor trials and two prosecutors are able to conduct hearings unsupervised,” the report reads. 

“As such, a prosecutor would conduct between two to three hearings and also appear for sentencing, bail applications, and other preliminary hearings and applications. 

“The complicated nature of some hearings requires lawyers with in-depth knowledge of the law as the prosecutorial skills to ensure the matters are properly presented in court.” 

The report comes after the resignation of lead prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division, Magele Leone Mailo-Sua, who left her post last month.

The former Attorney-General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai, was rehired to the Office as a consultant to assist with the prosecution division. 

The report also points to an issue with the retention of staff members: “This is an ongoing issue that we have faced over the years and it continues to be a persistent issue,” the report says. 

“The nature of the work is demanding and stressful and thus, it is often the case that lawyers often leave for higher salary work that is less taxing.”

The report says the high rate of lawyers moving to private practice and Government ministries continues in search for less stress and more income poses a challenge to their work. 

The report concludes by recommending the Attorney-General be allowed to hire more staff and that staff salaries be reviewed. 

“We invest time in training these lawyers only to lose them after one or two years of service,” the report says. 

According to the report, the salaries of prosecutors is a matter which, combined with remuneration, poses another challenge to the office. 

The workload and number of hours that the prosecutors work is applied in order to ensure that prosecutorial duties are met,” the report says. 

“However, salaries of prosecutors is a matter that needs to [be] revisited in order to provide an incentive for prosecutors to remain and also to attract lawyers to apply to the prosecution division. 

“What is imperative is to ensure that the knowledge and skill set that have already been invested in the current prosecution team is not lost due to better and more attractive work outside Government.”

The annual report also highlights issues with lawyers’ workloads. 

The Attorney General’s office in recent years has experienced a great influx in the number of matters referred to their office such as for prosecution; review and legal advice. 

“Whilst the prosecutors are passionate [about] the work and thus work long hours, what was noted is that the small and young team can become burnt out, particularly given the long arduous demands of court,” the report says.

The report says while matters subject to prosecution is being made publicly known through the media. But it says that the full picture of the extent of the work involved in prosecution goes unseen.

“Records and statistics would also show the number of files that are referred to us on a yearly basis which are on top of matters already pending and remain to be dealt with,” the report says. 

“Even after these files are closed, a lot of work is also required to close off these files before they are returned to the police.” 

In the report, the A.G.’s office says that data shows a high conviction rate is proof of the amount of work the Office puts into each prosecution file in the interests of securing justice. 

Police prosecutors were earlier this month moved from their Ministry to the Office of the Attorney-General after complaints that prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office could be overwhelmed.

Attorney-General Savalenoa Mareva Betham Annandale said: “The list of matters in the District Court is over 500 plus and there are five prosecutors for District Court,” said Savalenoa. “

[Existing prosecutors] can’t handle that on their own they need the [Police] prosecutors.”

The report covers the years between 2018 to 2019 and thus does not include the period for which the current Attorney General, Savalenoa, has presided over the Office.

Her predecessor, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, resigned unexpectedly in February.

Attempts to contact Savalenoa with detailed questions about the report via email since Wednesday have not been met with a response.

A full copy of the section of the annual report on challenges facing the Office is excerpted verbatim below:

The ongoing challenges that are faced by our team are numerous but to name a few which substantially hinder and affect the proper facilitation of our work are as follows: 

F. CHALLENGES 

The ongoing challenges that are faced by our team are numerous but to name a few which substantially hinder and affect the proper facilitation of our work are as follows: 

1. Retention of staff members - this is an ongoing issue that we have faced over the years and it continues to be a persistent issue. The high turnover of lawyers to private practice and more so to government ministries continues to mar our work as often, we invest time in training these lawyers, only to lose them after 1 or 2 years of service. The nature of the work is demanding and stressful and thus, it is often the case that lawyers often leave for higher salary work that is less taxing. Since the last financial year, we have managed to retain all the lawyers in our team and have also managed to fill all the vacancies except for the law clerk positions which cannot be filled given that the budget from these positions are being used to pay for the 2 part-timers who have been with the Supreme Court Prosecution team for nearly two years, commencing in November 2017.

Albeit we have filled the positions, the issue we now have is maintaining the lawyers in the team as well as the 2 part-timers who are not only doing the same work as the lawyers but have also been immersed fully into the team and are regarded as vital team members (albeit their status on paper). The issue as alluded to earlier is that these part-timers have been trained and now equipped with the same skill set as some of the lawyers in the team but:

a). There is no progression in the current structure. In the absence of such, they have to look elsewhere to further their careers. Losing these two invaluable members of the team will adversely affect the team as they have the same if not more input into the legal jurisprudence; their only impediment, that being the absence of law degrees their roles are as follows:

i)  Severiga makes all the arrangements and liaises with the  pathologist in arranging for the post mortems and deals directly with the doctors;

 ii) Sesili attends all post mortems to assist the doctor and police as a representative of the AGs office.

Whilst these two part-timers have no law degrees, a lot of time has been spent on training them in terms of not only administrative work but also in terms of preparing legal documents. Given the time invested in training these two, it is thus prudent to retain them or face the risk of losing them given the fact that there is no pathway in the current structure for them to progress and further their careers. Losing these two part-timers remains a live issue and a matter that needs to be addressed in order to maintain and retain the knowledge and skills amongst the workers for the office.

 b. Retention of people thus remains an imminent issue that needs to be addressed.

 Salaries of prosecutors is a matter which is arguably another factor that poses a challenge.

 The workload and number of hours that the prosecutors work is applied in order to ensure that prosecutorial duties are met. However, salaries of prosecutors is a matter that needs to [be] revisited in order to provide an incentive for prosecutors to remain and also to attract lawyers to apply to the prosecution division. What is imperative is to ensure that the knowledge and skill set that have already been invested in the current prosecution team is not lost due to better and more attractive work outside government.

 2. Lack of Experienced prosecutors - Other than the Assistant Attorney General, only 2 prosecutors are able to conduct assessor trials and 2 prosecutors are able to conduct hearings unsupervised. As such, a prosecutor would conduct between 2 to 3 hearings and also appear for sentencing, bail applications and other preliminary hearings and applications. The complicated nature of some hearings require lawyers with in-depth knowledge of the law as well as the prosecutorial skills to ensure the matters are properly presented in court. 

3. Lack of resources - We are often having to9 make do with the limited resources available and struggle most times to accommodate the requirements of the work against the limited resources. The limited resources coupled with limited litigators/lawyers is a factor which hinders the proper facilitation of prosecutorial work.

 4. Heavy Work Load - We have in recent years experienced a great influx in the number of matters referred to our office either for

  • 4.1 prosecution;
    4.2 review 
    4.3 legal advice

Whilst the prosecutors are passionate with the work and thus work long hours, what must be noted is that the small and young team can become burnt out, particularly given the long arduous demands of court. 

Further, whilst the matters being prosecuted are made publicly known to the public through the media, it does not fully disclose the extent of the work involved in the proper facilitation of prosecution.

Records and statistics would also show the number of files that are referred to us on a yearly basis which are on top of matters already pending and remain to be dealt with. Even after these files are closed, a lot of work is also required to close off these files before they are returned [to] police. Such include correspondence to police, immigration, the complainant, and also in compiling records for future reference. The record should also show the prosecution’s conviction rate to be high which is thus evidence of the work that is put into each prosecution file in matters of interest of justice.

5. Conducting work that is beyond the scope of court work 

There are two major roles that the Supreme Court division now undertake that should be noted

  • a) arrangements for pathologist
    For years now the Supreme Court division has been at the forefront of making the arrangements for pathologists. This is a taxing role as it involves making contact with forensic pathologist, arranging their travel and organizing accommodation. It also involves a member of the team attending the post mortem to provide legal support to the doctor and to ensure that the doctor has a point of contact with our office

b) attending Parole Board meetings.
Since last year, the prosecution have been attending the parole board meetings. This year, members of the Supreme Court division have become more involved and are now appearing for such to ensure that the Office of the Attorney General is represented and provide advice to the Parole Board for those convicts who are eligible for parole. This new role of the office is imperative as we have the information regarding the convicts that can be a determining factor whether the convicts should be paroled or not

G. RECOMMENDATION  

The most imminent recommendations to improve the prosecution’s work are as follows: 

I) Review of the current structure for the Supreme Court division to allow more workers to be employed; and 

ii) Review of the salaries of the prosecutors:

 

 

 



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