Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi has issued a statement telling the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) to mind their own business after the Society made public remarks about three amendment bills currently before the Parliament of Samoa.
The Prime Minister was responding to a recently published position on the NZ Law Society website where the organisation throws its support behind the Samoa Judiciary and members of the Samoa Law Society who have called for the removal of the amendment bills from the papers of Parliament in order to hold more extensive public consultations.
The three debatable pieces of legislation namely the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, have passed their first and second reading in the Samoa Parliament, and are now before a Special Parliamentary Select Committee tasked to hear public submissions.
In their public statement New Zealand Law Society President Tatiana Epati writes, “Senior judges and lawyers in Samoa are concerned that significant constitutional reforms are being progressed rapidly during the current COVID-19 pandemic and without the necessary consultation. The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa shares these concerns.”
“The Government of Samoa is advancing a suite of measures – the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 – and the bills have reached an advanced stage. It is proposed that the constitutional right of Samoans to seek judicial review of a decision of the Land and Titles Court in Samoa’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeal be removed; and that the judicial function of Samoa be split into two separate and potentially competing branches”.
Ms Epati says the Samoa Law Society requested the assistance of the New Zealand Law Society and they are “more than willing to provide assistance and to speak out in support of the Samoan judiciary and legal community, while acknowledging that Samoa is an independent sovereign country with its own legal system, customs and fa’a Samoa.”
“New Zealand and New Zealand lawyers have an interest in the integrity of the legal systems of our Pacific neighbours with whom we deal frequently,” Ms Epati says.
“There is understandable concern that this move is likely to adversely affect the rule of law, the position of the Chief Justice and the supervisory jurisdiction in the hierarchy of courts in Samoa. Senior judges in Samoa have expressed serious reservations about the constitutional changes, and the legislative process adopted,” says the New Zealand Law Society President.
“Whatever policy aims need to be achieved, it is hard to understand how such constitutional changes can be justified without the explicit support of a large majority of the people of Samoa obtained through proper consultation,” adds Ms Epati.
The President goes on to say that the New Zealand Law Society has shared its concerns with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“New Zealand has a long and close legal association with Samoa. Many of its lawyers have been educated here. Professor Colin Aikman of New Zealand was one of the most influential figures in the drafting of the Constitution that preceded Samoa’s independence in 1962. There were elaborate consultations over the Constitution and the process took several years”.
“New Zealand and Samoa share a similar legal heritage. We are both parliamentary democracies essentially based on the Westminster system. Many Samoan laws derived from New Zealand. Shared fundamental principles embedded in both legal systems are of vital importance to the preservation of freedom and good government”.
“As President of the New Zealand Law Society, I speak also as a person who is of Samoan heritage. I came to New Zealand from Samoa at the age of 10. I have learned first-hand in New Zealand the importance of proper process, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the availability of judicial review. These are essential elements of democratic government.”
In response the Prime Minister of Samoa reminds Ms Epati that Samoa has been indepedent since 1962 and advises the President of the New Zealand Law Society to concentrate on the needs of its own members.
“There is no place for the President of an overseas Law Society to use that organisation’s name to try to lecture us or interfere with our country’s democratic processes”.
“Samoa’s Government is trying to create a Specialist Court of Appeal for its own cultural Lands and Titles to be legally acknowledged and preserved”.
“It is a matter now at Select Committee for public consultation, and it is a matter for Samoa”.
“In short, it is none of your overseas presidential business”, said the Samoa Prime Minister.