“I have been removed summarily without process” – LTC President Chllenges Legality of Decision

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The President of Samoa’s Lands and Titles Court (LTC), afioga Fepuleai Atila Ropati is asking the Supreme Court, to consider the legality of a decision by the Prime Minister, that his position as President has been revoked.

Fepuleai confirmed through a press release that Prime Minister Hon Fiame Naomi Mataafa, made her decision known to him in writing on 20 October 2022 and then “reaffirmed it through a letter dated 28 October 2022”.

“This press release is issued in response to media reports regarding the decision of the Honorable Prime Minister to remove me as President of the Lands and Titles Court (LTC)..”

Fepuleai says the Prime Minister informed him that his last day would be today, Monday 31 October 2022.

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“As I understand it the decision to remove me is based on section 67(6) of the Land and Titles Act 2020,” said Fepuleai.

S67(6) of LTA 2020 is one of the savings and transitional provisions of the Act.

Fepuleai is challenging the intention of 67(6) to mean that his appointment as LTC President is revoked at the commencement of the Act.

“Respectfully it is my firm position that the decision to remove me under section 67(6) is inconsistent with the Constitution which requires that only the Head of State can remove the President of the LTC following a two third majority vote in the Assembly..

“That has not been done.”

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Fepuleai says another ground for removal of the LTC President is where there has been a failure to carry out the duties of the President of the LTC.

“That is not the ground relied upon by the Honorable Prime Minister”.

Fepuelai referred to the April 2022 Supreme Court decision in the case of President LTC v Attorney General 2022 WSSC8.

“The Supreme Court considered section 67(6) and determined that the summary removal of judges of the LTC without process cannot be the desired effect of that provision,” Fepuleai reminds.

“Yet that has occurred..

“I have been removed summarily without process,” Fepuleai reiterates.

During the case referred to by the LTC President, Chief Justice His Honour Satiu Simativa Perese stated that it would surely not be the intention of Parliament for a provision to result in the mass sacking of Lands and Title Court judges.

The Savings and Transitional Provisions of the LTC Act 2020 was the focus of deliberations during that Supreme Court hearing presided over by the CJ, with Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Niava Mata Tuatagaloa.

Fepuleai Atila Ropati says he will seek the Court’s clarification and will accept whatever decision is handed down by the Supreme Court.

“I can only respectfully request discretion in the public discussion and discourse regarding this decision while we await a decision from our Courts,” he adds.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai, who was brought back temporarily to help with the demands of cases during the 2021 general election, is expected to be sworn-in as the new LTC President this Wednesday 2nd October 2022.