Samoa is situated in the South Pacific half way between Hawaii to New Zealand.
Samoa is a parliamentary democracy. It achieved independence from New Zealand in 1962. Samoa's Government consists of a Head of State, who swears in the Prime Minister (elected by the Legislative Assembly) and, on the Prime Minister's advice, the Cabinet Ministers. The Head of State is His Highness Afioga Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi.
Formerly called Western Samoa the prefix ‘Western’ was dropped in 1997.
Its capital is Apia.
There is a Unicameral Legislative Assembly (Fono a Faipule) with 49 members. Of those, 47 members are elected by Electors affiliated with traditional village-based electoral districts, two are elected by voters who cannot (or choose not to) establish a village affiliation. Only chiefs (matai) may stand for election to the Fono a Faipule from the 47 village-based electorates. Members serve five-year terms.
The population of Samoa is 180,741. The median age is 20.4 years. In contrast the median age in Australia is 37 and in New Zealand it is 34.
The economy of Samoa has traditionally been dependent on development aid, family remittances from overseas, agriculture, and fishing. Samoa is vulnerable to devastating storms. Two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture which makes up 90 per cent of its exports. Foreign reserves are in a relatively healthy state, the external debt is stable, and inflation is low.
Court structure and the legal system
The court hierarchy in Samoa is consistent with the model of inferior court, superior court and court of appeal.
Village fonos deal with village affairs. Appeals from the Village fonos proceed to the Land and Title’s Court.
The Land and Title’s Court possesses a separate jurisdiction in all matters relating to Samoan chiefly titles and in all claims and disputes relating to customary land. Appeals from the Land and Titles Court are heard by the court comprising the president and two Samoan judges appointed by the president. There is no further appeal from the Land and Title’s Court.
The Chief Justice presides over the Court of Appeal. Other judges of the Court of Appeal include Supreme Court judges and other persons appointed by the Head of State who acts on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
The Supreme Court is constituted of a Chief Justice and an unspecified number of puisne judges. The powers of the Supreme Court may be exercised by a single judge.
District Court Judges are appointed by the Head of State acting on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and may be constituted by a fa’amasimo fesoasoani. A fa’amasino fesoasoani is a second tier member of the judiciary within the District Court who may or may not be a qualified legal practitioner.
Custom and the influence on the legal system
The Constitution of Samoa Article 111(1) defines 'law' as it exists in Samoa to include 'custom and usage' which has acquired the force of law in Samoa or any part thereof under the provision of any Act or under a judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction. However there are judgments of the superior courts which suggest that custom is not to be applied if it is inconsistent with common law notions of justice or with more widespread customs.
Legal system reform
In Samoa a Law Reform Commission was established in 2008 by the Samoa Law Reform Commission Act 2008. Its key objective is to establish an institution that can coordinate the review and development of laws in Samoa and to ensure consistency.