Fearless Justice of the Supreme Court

“Men are still treating women as property and unless that mindset is changed, women are no longer safe, and men with such violent attitudes should not be allowed out to society,”

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Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa
Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa

As a Court Reporter, I have spent many hours in the halls of MJCA and in the Court rooms of our Supreme Court Justices and District Court Judges. I can attest that their work is both difficult and challenging. They see and hear the gruesome details of the horrific criminal activities that affect our people every day.

This series pays tribute to Samoa’s judiciary.

Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa.

As the first woman judge in Samoa appointed in 2011 she has is known for being strict yet fair – a woman who is without fear when it comes to ensuring that she gives the appropriate judgement on the accused who come into her court room.

One thing I have seen Justice Mata not tolerate is violence – especially when it’s a case of domestic violence.

The best example for this is the case of Police versus Bragovits where she sentenced the defendant found guilty, to more than 10 years for attempted murder towards his partner at the time.

“Men are still treating women as property and unless that mindset is changed, women are no longer safe, and men with such violent attitudes should not be allowed out to society,” she said of the case where a woman was seriously wounded and scarred for life from a machete attack.

Justice Tuatagaloa also made reference to Justice Vui Clarence Nelson’s comments in a similar case, where he said it is “domestic violence at its worst”.

She said domestic violence is occurring at every community but if this is the perception of men on women, then the Samoan proverb ‘O le i’oimata o le tuagage o lona tuafafine’ – the pupil of the man’s eye is his sister,” has failed.

Tuatagaloa was born in Samoa however she obtained her legal education in New Zealand and Australia, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Waikato University, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of NSW and then pursued further legal studies at the Australian National University.

In 2000 Tuatagaloa became a partner at the law firm Brunt Keli, before moving in 2007 to be a partner at Richards Law Firm. Tuatagaloa has also served as President of the Samoa Law Society.

In 2011 Tuatagaloa was appointed a Judge of the District Court where she mostly heard criminal trials in both the District Court and Youth Court. Justice Tuatagaloa was the first woman in Samoa to have been appointed to the bench.

In 2015 Tuatagaloa was appointed to the Supreme Court and continued to hear criminal trials.  In 2016 Tuatagaloa heard charges of forgery and fraud against Associate Minister Peseta Vaifou Tevaga.

She found the prosecution failed to prove the charges and they were dismissed.

Tuatagaloa has sat in the Alcohol and Drugs Court since its establishment in February 2016 and credited the court process and engagement of the community with a reduction in alcohol related cases from 61% to 55% of all cases.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 2011 – Sworn in by Chief Justice Patu Falefatu Sapolu to the District Court of Samoa
  • 2011 – Tuatagaloa became the first woman Judge serving in Samoa
  • 2007 – Partner at Richards Law Firm
  • President of the Samoa Law Society
  • 2007 – Vice President of the Samoa Law Society
  • 2000 – Partner at Brunt Keli Law Firm
  • Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Administration Courts
  • Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Administration: Ministry of Justice
  • Vice President of the Samoa Netball Association
  • Law Clerk at the Office of the Attorney General in Samoa

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