As Samoa navigates through the political and constitutional challenges following the recent election, the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa stands in support of the Samoan judiciary and lawyers in drawing attention to the importance of judicial independence as one of the most important elements of the rule of law.
The Law Society is concerned about recent attacks on the Samoan judiciary. It acknowledges that Samoa is an independent sovereign country with its own legal system, customs and fa’a Samoa, but in any democracy the avenue for challenging and testing decisions by the courts is via the appeals process.
“The Law Society believes that the proper place to resolve these legal and constitutional issues is through the normal judicial process, including appeal. Those processes are now underway, and the outcomes must be respected,” says Law Society President Tiana Epati.
“Following the recent Court of Appeal decision, it is timely to reflect on the rule of law and to remember that all parties must abide by the decisions of the courts. They should not undermine or attack the legitimacy of judges who are fulfilling their judicial oaths through the exercise of their independent and impartial judgment.”
New Zealand has a long and close legal association with Samoa. Many of its lawyers have been educated here, and we share a similar legal heritage. We are both parliamentary democracies based on the Westminster system. Shared fundamental principles embedded in both legal systems are of vital importance to the preservation of freedom and good government.
“Judicial independence is a core value of the international community, and Samoa has committed to this as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Trust in the independence of the courts and respect for the rule of law are critical to democratic government. This means that all parties are accountable to the law and subject to the decisions of the courts. When this is undermined, lawyers have a duty to speak out,” says Ms Epati.
“It is important to remember at this time that lawyers are bound by the oath we swear on admission to the profession to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice. While these are fundamental obligations imposed by statute in New Zealand, they are also obligations that apply equally to lawyers in Samoa.”
The Law Society has shared its concerns with New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.