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Concern regarding proposed constitutional amendments in Samoa

29 MAY 2020

The South Pacific Lawyers' Association (SPLA) has expressed concern about Samoa’s proposed constitutional changes.

SPLA was established in 2007 with the object of supporting law societies and bar associations in the South Pacific region, and promoting the interests of the legal profession in the South Pacific.  Its member organisations comprise law associations of 17 South Pacific countries, with an executive of seven elected members.  The current president is Dr Gordon Hughes from the Law Council of Australia.

SPLA is mindful of the right of democratically elected governments to chart their own course.  At the same time, any action which erodes the independence of the judiciary or which threatens the rule of law has implications for the wider region, and calls for a considered response from overseas and international law associations.

SPLA is concerned about the implication of three Bills, the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020Judicature Bill 2020, and Lands and Titles Bill 2020, which were introduced immediately prior to the declaration of Samoa’s COVID-19 State of Emergency on 20 March 2020. 

SPLA has one principal concern with respect to the Bills, namely that judicial independence would be undermined by the power of the Judicial Services Commission, a majority of whose members would be appointed by the executive, to dismiss judges.  At present, the power to dismiss judges requires a two-thirds vote of Parliament on grounds of misbehaviour or mental impairment.

An independent judiciary is fundamental to the rule of law in any country.  A judge’s tenure should never be subject to political or populist pressure.  The prospect of a judge being dismissed by a body comprised largely of lay persons appointed by the executive is inconsistent with those fundamental legal principles and undermines the rule of law.

SPLA urges the government of Samoa to consider the broader implications of the Bills, and to re-consider its proposal to progress them through Parliament.

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