Samoa’s District Court is facing a major overhaul according to a Parliamentary Select Committee.
In its report to the Legislative Assembly, the Justice, Police and Prison and Land and Titles (J.P.P.L.T.) Committee recommended to government to consider the report of the Samoa Law Reform Commission (S.L.R.C.) and its recommendations for the reformation of the District Court Act 1969.
The Chairman of the Committee is Tuisa Tasi Patea. Looking to the S.L.R.C.’s findings, the District Court under its criminal jurisdiction may try any offence that is punishable by a fine, penalty or forfeiture of any amount or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
“The Committee noted there was a general consensus that the jurisdiction of the District Court in both civil and criminal cases should be increased. In contrast with jurisdictions overseas, Samoa‘s jurisdiction is quite low,” the Report reads.
“Further, the introduction of the Crimes Act 2013 has increased many of the penalties for criminal offences, and Samoa’s growing economy means that many civil proceedings also deal with higher monetary claims.”
“The Commission recommends increasing the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court to try any offence that is punishable by a fine, penalty or forfeiture of any amount or a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years, an increase from the current maximum the of imprisonment of five years.”
“The Committee considers the recommendations given and accepts (them) as presented by the Commission.”
Furthermore according to the report currently in the District Court Act, it does not expressly set out the roles, powers and responsibilities of District
Court Judges except to state their secondary role as Coroners by virtue of their office.
“There are no provisions that set out the functions and roles of a Fa’amasino Fesoasoani except the provision on the appointment and tenure of
Judges and Fa’amasino Fesoasoani,” the Committee reports.
“The Committee considered the importance of protection and having honesty in all cases operating as well as making decisions.”
“It is the Commission’s view that the Act should clearly set out provisions encompassing the appointment, tenure and removal of the District Court Judges, including Fa’amasino Fesoasoani.”
“According to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary sets out that persons selected for judicial office should be individuals with integrity and ability with appropriate training or qualifications in law. The
Committee noted that these recommendations from the Commission are appropriately set out due to the results of their finding.”
“The Committee considers and approves it.”
In regards to the Divisions of the District Court, the J.P.P.L.T. Committee reports that it currently has three different divisions to deal with Youth matters, Family matters and Coronial Inquests apart from its general jurisdiction.
“However, these divisions are not formally set out in the District Courts Act,” the report reads.
“Rather, the Youth Court is established by the Young Offenders Act 2007 as a division of the District Court.”
“The Young Offenders Act 2007 sets out the jurisdiction of the Youth Court which are proceedings of the criminal nature.”
“The District Courts Act also contains provisions that refer to matters such guardianship, custody of infants and destitute and delinquent children.”
“The Committee noted from the Commission’s ﬁndings that the Youth Court is well established by the Young Offenders Act 2007. ”
“However, the Commission considers there is value in recognising the Youth Court as a Division of the District Court in the District Courts Act.”
The Committee also reported on the importance of a Family Court in Samoa and said that it sees advantage in establishing a further division of the District Court called the Drugs and Alcohol Court and recommended that the Coroner’s Court not become one of its divisions – both recommendations being approved by the Committee.
In addition to Tuisa, the Committee Comprised of Afoafouvale John Moors as Deputy Chairman and Members Lafaitele Patrick Leiataualesa, Tapuai Toese Ah Sam, Papalii Lio F. Taeu Masipau, Lenatai Victor Tamapua and Lefau Harry Schuster.