New Zealand Law Society - IBA adds its weight to concerns over Samoan constitutional changes

IBA adds its weight to concerns over Samoan constitutional changes

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The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is the latest legal body to question the significant constitutional changes being proposed in Samoa.

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 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 bills have all passed first and second readings in Parliament, and are now before a Parliamentary Select Committee for public submissions.

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has expressed its concerns about the changes as has the Law Council of Australia.

Legislation would 'undermine the Rule of Law' in Samoa

In an open letter to the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, IBAHRI urges the Samoan Government to reconsider the legislation it says would alter the court system and undermine the rule of law and judicial independence in the country.

Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, and Anne Ramberg, immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, have jointly signed the letter in their roles as Co-Chairs of IBAHRI.

“IBAHRI contests the belief that international legal principles, as enshrined in the current Constitution, are unfit for Samoans, as expressed in your Ministerial address noting this proposed legislation,” the letter states.

“This legislation cannot better serve the needs of Samoans if it derogates from their human rights. The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental pillars of international human rights law, and IBAHRI is concerned that this proposed legislation threatens these pillars and interferes with the guarantees of fundamental rights.”

The letter urges the Samoan Government to recognise the rule of law and human rights as ‘two sides of the same principle’, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“IBAHRI is deeply concerned by the move to introduce such legislation which would radically alter the constitution of Samoa, only a day before the country’s Covid-19 state of emergency was called,” the letter adds.

“The Covid-19 crisis should not be exploited as a guise under which controversial legislation can be pushed through, whilst international attention is diverted to fighting the crisis.”