Respect, support rule of law: Australian Bar Association

The Australian Bar Association has appealed to all parties at the centre of the country’s constitutional crisis to support the independence of Samoa’s judiciary and respect the rule of law.

The A.B.A. said in a statement released last Friday that it joins the Law Council of Australia and the New Zealand Law Society in urging all parties to respect and support the rule of law and the judiciary’s independence.

It said the local judiciary has faced criticism for exercising its constitutional role in considering matters arising out of the country’s general elections held on 9 April 2021.

However, the A.B.A. President Mathew Howard emphasised that it is the role of the Courts to resolve constitutional matters.

 “It is the role of the courts to resolve constitutional matters independently and in accordance with the law,” said Mr Howard.

“The independence of the judiciary is fundamental to upholding the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the democratic process. 

“The A.B.A. supports the Samoan judiciary in exercising its vital role in resolving the current issue.”

The criticism targeting the Courts follows the 9 April 2021 general election, which saw the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) suffer heavy defeat with its majority slashed from 47 to 25 seats, and the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party winning 25 constituency seats, which together with the support of Independent MP Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio gave the 12-month-old party a one-seat majority in the 51-seat parliament. 

But the caretaker Prime Minister and H.R.P.P. leader Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has refused to concede defeat and let the F.A.S.T. leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa form government, plunging the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis that is now into its second month.

Established in 1963, the A.B.A. is the peak body representing nearly 6,000 barristers throughout Australia with its members committed to serving, promoting and representing its members, as well as advocating for fair and equal justice for all.

Last week, the New Zealand Law Society expressed their support for Samoa’s judiciary while appealing for the upholding of the rule of law and the respecting of court decisions.

While acknowledging that Samoa is an independent sovereign nation with its own legal system, customs and fa’a Samoa, the N.Z.L.S. President Tiana Epati emphasised that in any democracy the proper avenue to challenge and test decisions by the Courts is through the appeals process.

She said legal and constitutional issues can only be addressed through the normal judicial process including appeals and these processes are on foot and their outcomes should be respected.

“Following the recent Court of Appeal decision, it is timely to reflect on the rule of law and to remember that all parties must abide by the decisions of the courts,” she said.

“They should not undermine or attack the legitimacy of judges who are fulfilling their judicial oaths through the exercise of their independent and impartial judgment.”

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