29 January 2019, Apia Samoa. An amendment before Parliament will restrict the Community Law Center to only provide legal aid to defendants charged with criminal offenses.
According to a Government press statement the centre provided a service of free legal aid for defendants facing both criminal charges as well as clients involved in civil suits.
However, the amendment before Parliament now is for the Community Law Center to provide legal aid only for defendants charged with criminal offenses.
The Community Law Centre established by law in 2015, was designed to provide free legal services to the people of Samoa by strengthening and improving public access to legal services.
A Government press statement confirms, “The primary target for the Community Law Centre was to enhance the availability of legal services and legal information for the community at large, in particular those members of the public who cannot afford private legal assistance.”
In defending the amendment, Justice Minister Faaolesa Katopau Ainu’u said that the $200,000 tala budget for Legal Aid is insufficient to cater for the rising demand for defendants facing criminal charges, and eligible for legal aid from the Center.
He added that legal representation by any defendant charged with a criminal offense is mandated by the constitution.
In support of the amendment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi suggested that the legal aid assistance paid for by taxpayers have also been abused by certain lawyers.
“These are the same lawyers manipulating the system by encouraging clients to sue the government knowing full well that it’s a lost cause for their clients but a sure pay check from the legal aid assistance funded by taxpayers.
“That in my book is a devious crime that should be discontinued,” added the Prime Minister.