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District Court faces overhaul

Article from the Samoan Observer (Tuesday 18 November 2014) by Sophie Budvietas.

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.

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Alcohol laws under microscope

Article from the Samoan Observer (Sunday 19 October 2014) by Jasmine Netzler.

The wide availability of beer-related advertisements in and outside of the media and easy access to alcohol by young people throughout the country are among issues being scrutinised by the government.

Acting on a directive from Cabinet, the Samoa Law Reform Commission, which is carrying out the review into alcohol laws, has been asked by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, to consider law reform to address the harm caused by alcohol in Samoa.

Among the issues being looked at include alcohol licensing requirements, pricing of alcohol, alcohol content of beverages, availability of alcohol, advertising of alcohol, age restrictions and the responsibilities of village councils, churches and others in relation to alcohol.

The public consultation, from which a report to Cabinet by the Commission will be based, is scheduled to start in Upolu and Savai’i at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, one of the legislations being looked at as part of the review is the Liquor Act 2011.

The Commission’s Assistant Executive Director and lawyer, Pale Fuimaono, says the Commission is looking at what’s happening in Samoa today and comparing it to the best practises being adopted by other countries.

“There is currently no legislation or provision that regulates advertisement (of alcohol) and we are looking at other jurisdictions like New Zealand and Australia on how they regulate the advertisement of alcohol,” he says.

Mr. Fuimaono adds that they are also looking at the Tobacco Act that regulates the display of tobacco, labelling and packaging.

“The possibility is that that alcohol regulation will follow behind this but still, we are accessing some other laws.”

Mr. Fuimaono says in terms of advertisement, New Zealand for example takes a more self-regulatory approach. This is where alcohol manufacturers and shops agree on how liquor is advertised and sold.

“One of the things they do is that you cannot advertise alcohol from 6am to 8:30pm. That is how they regulate theirs. They also do not to advertise alcohol in a form that will target minors or young people.”

Another issue being looked at is how much alcohol can be served to one person at one time. At the moment, there is no limit.

“If we are addressing the harm of alcohol abuse, then we have to look at the root,” says Mr. Fuimaono. “We have to look at all these problems that we see every day, what is happening in the nightclubs and restaurants.”

The impact of alcohol on young people is a key consideration for the Commission.

“They are the generation of tomorrow and we need to educate them to be responsible,” says Mr. Fuimaono.

Another key group in the consultation process involves the business community, especially alcohol manufacturers.

The Commission raised the issue during a Chamber of Commerce meeting last week and Mr. Fuimaono says the business community is keen to do its part. Many of them have indicated that it is something they are happy to consider.

“Because that is really up to them and that is the purpose of self regulation,” he says. “Instead of the government penalising, they work together to find some compromise.”

According to the Assistant Executive Director, the review is acceptance from the government that “alcohol is major problem in Samoa.”

“It’s becoming a culture and seriously it needs to be addressed,” says Mr. Fuimaono. The Commission also believes the first part of good change comes from acceptance and willingness to do something about it.”

Mr. Fuimaono urges members of the public to express their opinions during the public consultations scheduled to take place on 29 October at the Tooa Salamasina Hall at 9am and on 31 October at the Apito Hall in Salelologa Savai’i.

“S.R.L.C is calling upon churches, parents, youths, children and all members of the public to be a part of this event.”

The Commission is also accepting written submissions about the issue until 7 November.

Posted in News