Justice Minister Says No Direction was Given to Halt Matters in Lands and Titles Court

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21 January 2022 Apia Samoa. Samoa’s Minister of Justice has clarified that she had given no such direction or advice to halt the work of the LTC in light of a recent discovery that different versions of the Lands and Titles Act 2020 are currently floating around Samoa.

“No decision was made to halt LTC matters,” said Hon Matamua Seumanu Vasati Pulufana Sili.

The Minister said original discussions had considered that option, however, it was then decided that it would be best to await the findings of an internal investigation conducted by the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly (OCLA).

The Speaker of the House announced on Tuesday morning that the report would be tabled in Parliament after the Supplementary Budget is passed.

“Parliament must be informed of the seriousness of the matter that has arisen in relation to the process of amendments that were made to the Constitution as well as the Lands and Titles Act,” stated the Speaker.

According to Hon Papalii Taeu Masipau “there was a mix-up between copies in Parliament and those given to the Head of State”.

“It has also been confirmed that (hard copy) versions of the Acts being sold to the public, are different from versions uploaded to the Legislative Assembly’s website’.

Last month the Minister of Justice attempted to put on hold the appointment of Samoa’s former Electoral Commissioner to the position of Deputy President of the LTC claiming that procedures were not adequately covered by the Acts.

The Deputy President of LTC is a new position created under amended laws now under scrutiny for having different versions in existence. The appointment of a Deputy President of LTC is made by the LTC’s equivalent to a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) referred to as the Komisi in the Acts. The appointment of LTC judges by a Komisi or JSC of the Courts ensures the Judiciary’s independence from the other two pillars of Government, the Executive and Parliament.

The Justice Minister told Samoa Global News at the time of the appointment that she was blindsided and not informed that the Komisi was moving forward with the appointment.

Matamua says she formally wrote to the MJCA CEO to put the process on hold, and to request the Attorney General’s advice as to the process. She said her main concern was the lack of provisions in the Acts to guide the appointment, including relevant qualifications for who may be appointed to the position.

It was in looking up the Three Bills for clarification as to the process of appointing a Deputy President of LTC that the Attorney General discovered there were different versions of the Acts.

The Komisi is standing by their decision to appoint Samoa’s former Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio as Vice President of the Lands and Titles Court. The Komisi have gone as far as filing a petition in the Supreme Court to fight their powers to independently appoint judges of the LTC. The matter is due to be heard when Courts resume in the coming weeks.

In as far as the position of Deputy President, the CEO of the Justice Ministry who is also Secretary to the Komisi, Moliei Vaai, says the position is to deputise and support the work of the President.

“The Deputy President may preside over the Lands & Titles High Court, and will help with the backlog of Appeal cases because applications for leave to appeal can only be presided over by the President or Deputy President of LTC”.

The Komisi Secretary said at the time that the position is equivalent to that of a District Court judge, which is on an invitational basis, and not by advertised recruitment processes.

What the Acts Say (Versions Uploaded on Legislative Assembly Website)

“Deputy President” means Deputy President of the Court appointed by the Head of State on the advice of Komisi.”  (S2 Interpretations under Lands & Titles Act 2020.)

The “Komisi o le Faamasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa” or the equivalent of a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for the Lands & Titles Court is a committee under the 2020 Constitution Amendment 104E that states, “There shall be a Komisi comprising the LTC President as Chairperson, a Supreme Court Judge nominated by the CJ, and the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Registrar of the Courts is a non-voting member to serve as the Komisi’s secretary.
The Constitutional Amendment Act also lists the powers of the Komisi o le Faamasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa as including the appointment, removal or suspension of the Deputy President of LTC and other judges of the Lands and Titles Court.