L.T.C. bills published online
Three pieces of legislation reforming the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.), broader judiciary and the constitution are now online and accessible by members of the public.
But while the Land and Titles Act 2020 and Judicature Act 2020 have been published in full, the online version of the Constitution Amendment Act contains only the amendments to Samoa’s principal document.
Since the three bills were introduced in late March 2020, they have drawn criticism from the legal fraternity and domestic and overseas jurists and equally strong defences from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
They were passed in Parliament last December by 41 votes to four.
Fiame Naomi Mataafa, Olo Fiti Vaai, Faumuina Wayne Fong and Laauli Leuatea Schmidt voted against the bills, which were redrafted before their third reading but not presented in full to Members of Parliament.
Now that they are online, interested parties will be able to see for the first time exactly what amendments were proposed by a Special Parliamentary Committee tasked with soliciting public opinion and feedback on the bills.
On the day of the bills’ passage, a motion moved by Fiame to consider the contents of the report by the committee, which had been touring the nation for several months.
Fiame had said that M.P.s had been provided copies of the bills and the committee’s report “hot off the press” shortly before they were officially voted upon by the Parliament.
Among other changes, the Land and Titles Act details the new structure of the Land and Titles Court, which now has its own court of Appeal and Review.
Decisions made in the L.T.C. are no longer subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court. This move has been among the most controversial of the reforms, as it means there are now two, possibly contradictory courts responsible for upholding the Constitution.
The Judicature Act includes several changes to the original legislation, including a new definition of a “senior judge” of the Supreme Court. A senior judge, according to the new act, has the authority to delegate functions to other Supreme Court judges and support the management of the Supreme Court bench.
This change, when read alongside a change made to the Constitution, provides clarity over who is eligible to be appointed as Acting Chief Justice.
This was a point of contention in late 2020 when Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese went to New Zealand for medical treatment. He defended his decision to appoint Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa as his stand-in, not the more experienced jurist Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.
Changes to the constitution include an adjustment to how long a person should be working as a lawyer before they are eligible to be a Supreme Court Judge, and a provision to allow the Head of State to remove Supreme Court judges on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
Previously, the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court could only be removed by a two thirds majority vote in Parliament. Today that privilege is only for the Chief Justice.
Rules concerning the L.T.C. are also amended in the constitution, and the new structure of the court is detailed in full. The court now has the jurisdiction to make decisions “in accordance with the customs and usages of the Samoan race,” which was not previously written in the Constitution.
The passage of the heavily amended bill was criticised by La’auli who said that moving a bill that had changed so significantly from its first tabling amounted to a violation of Parliament’s standing orders.
La’auli, the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party leader, believes the hurried passage of legislation that had changed so fundamentally demanded a legal challenge.
But he said he would wait until the bills were released before deciding whether to mount a legal challenge against the bills on the grounds that their passage had violated the Parliamentary process on several counts.
Fiame also queried why Members of Parliament and the public did not have access to final copies of the legislation more than three weeks after their passage.
Read the new Acts: