The Law Council of Australia has raised concerns about significant constitutional amendments introduced into Parliament by Samoa’s Government.
Last week the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa expressed its concerns about the changes.
The Samoan Government is advancing a suite of measures – the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.
It is proposed that the constitutional right of Samoans to seek judicial review of a decision of the Land and Titles Court (LTC) 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.
The Law Council of Australia President, Pauline Wright, says the proposed amendments undermine judicial independence and the fundamental separation of powers that are vital to the rule of law.
“By placing the LTC outside of the scrutiny and supervisory jurisdiction of Samoa’s Supreme Court, this legislation, if passed, would create two parallel and potentially competing court systems within Samoa’s legal framework,” says Ms Wright.
“This would limit the grounds of judicial review available to Samoans, with unsuccessful parties before the LTC not having the option to appeal before the Supreme Court.”
Currently under Samoa’s Constitution, Parliament may, by a two-thirds majority, remove judges based on misbehaviour or mental impairment. The amendments seek to remove this power and create a Judicial Services Committee appointed by the government.
Ms Wright says this raises the further concern that the government could influence and undermine the judiciary and render judges vulnerable to dismissal without cause or due process.
The Law Council of Australia supports the Samoa Law Society’s call for country-wide consultations on these amendments and urges the Samoan Government to withdraw the bills until these consultations have taken place and concerns raised by members of Samoa’s judiciary and legal profession have been addressed.