NZ Law Society raises concerns about court changes in Samoa

Radio New Zealand reports…


The New Zealand Law Society has raised “serious concerns” about constitutional law changes in Samoa. Reports the national Broadcaster

Here’s the piece

In a statement, the group said senior judges and lawyers in Samoa were concerned that significant constitutional reforms are being progressed rapidly during the current Covid-19 pandemic and without the necessary consultation.

Tiana Epati has been elected as the first ever New Zealand Law Society president of Pacific Island descent.

NZ Law Society President, Tiana Epati Photo: NZ Law Society

The New Zealand Law Society said it shared those concerns.

It said the Government of Samoa was advancing a suite of three controversial bills which would remove 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.

The society said the judicial function of Samoa would also be split into two separate and potentially competing branches.

“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,” said New Zealand Law Society President Tiana Epati.

“Senior judges in Samoa have expressed serious reservations about the constitutional changes, and the legislative process adopted.”

The Samoa Law Society’s President, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, had already issued his own statement regarding the process and serious constitutional implications.

The Samoa Law Society had requested the assistance of their New Zealand counterparts.

The latter said it was more than willing to provide assistance and to speak out in support of the Samoan judiciary and legal community.

However it still acknowledged Samoa is an independent sovereign country with its own legal system, customs and fa’a Samoa.

“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,” Ms Epati said.

“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.”

The society said New Zealand had a long and close legal association with Samoa with many of its lawyers educated in Aotearoa.

The two countries share a similar legal heritage, according to the New Zealand Law Society.

“As President of the New Zealand Law Society, I speak also as a person who is of Samoan heritage,” said Ms Epati.

“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.”

The New Zealand Law Society said it had discussed its concerns with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.