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'A STORM IN A TEACUP'. - Counsel Fetū Laga'aia.

I feel like I need to put some context into this recent legal fiasco to avoid misconception. I am also mindful of my reputation and most importantly that of our law firm.Reading the SO article yesterday on this latest turn of event regarding the complaint by the Police Commissioner, makes me appreciate the value of our work as lawyers.

In our legal profession, we live and work according to certain laws, rules and ethics. Like Doctors, lawyers are also governed by strict rules of “client privilege” and confidentiality.

It is not news that the attack on my career comes after a series of ongoing legal debates and court proceedings. It is also not news that the clients concerned were found by the Police whilst attending to our office for legal advice as previously reported by the Police. Details of the case will be withheld due to ongoing legal proceedings. But suffice to say that our office fully cooperated with the Police upon their request to bring the wanted clients to the Apia Police Station for investigation which subsequently led to a number of charges.

The claim by the Commissioner as reported in the SO that a lawyer like myself is liable for harbouring a fugitive by holding appointments with these clients seeking legal advice at the lawyer’s office is mind blowing. It now impinges on one of our basic legal duties, values and principles of our legal profession. The “Solicitor-client privilege” and access to justice.

Without touching too much on details of the case and given the criminal nature of the issues and the complaint against counsel to the Law Society.

There seems to be an illusion here on his understanding of the duty of a lawyer and how to deal with a client who is also a wanted individual. Perhaps the misunderstanding is due to ones lack of basic knowledge, as an outsider, of our rules, laws and ethics that governs the legal profession. Therefore lies the danger and need to obtain proper legal advice before filing such a trivial complaint, to avoid malicious attack and litigation against the State.

I take this complaint as a direct attack on my career levelled against the “Solicitor-client privilege” which is an important law applicable to all interactions between client and lawyer when providing legal advice or acting as a lawyer.

The rules comes with strict obligation to be upheld by lawyers to a highest standard of professionalism and ethics. Those of us practicing law in the private sectors appreciates the importance of this rule. It has to be observed strictly to ensure public confidence in our work.

There are also serious consequences if there is a breach of that duty where a lawyer disclose clients information without consent. I am mindful of certain exceptions to the rule that “may” warrant a departure or may allow for disclosure by a lawyer, for e.g if there is a confession of a serious crime committed by the client or a confession of a crime to be committed by the client or a waiver of confidentiality by the client themselves etc. As much as I want to sympathise with this unusual suggestion to report the client to the Police but my hands are tied and my mouth is zipped unless there is an exception.

Otherwise e leai se Toma, Tiki ma se Heri e toe fia alu ise loia i Samoa e faamatala iai ni ona faafitauli pe afai e tatau ile loia ona vili Leoleo ma toe faamatala iai lana case. Nevertheless, counsel swore an oath to serve the people and uphold the rule of law. It is what it is.

I also find it amusing this infantile claim that counsel was being “unethical and discourteous” for holding appointments with these wanted clients without informing the Police Commissioner first. It is common knowledge that I work in a law firm located at Tamaligi in the heart of Apia, literally 3 to 4 building away from the Apia Police Station, open from 9am-5pm. It would have been a different situation if my clients appointments were held in a secluded unofficial setting (at home, or in my car or a restaurant or at my farm). All appointments at my office are arranged through our legal secretary. There is nothing unethical in the arrangement of these appointments and the Police Commissioner is more than welcome at anytime to make an appointment too.

So with all due respect, I owe “no mandatory duty” to call the Commissioner of Police to inform him either before, during or after I discuss any legal matters with a client regardless of the serious nature of the case especially if the client is seeking legal advice, either civil or criminal. I strongly disapproved the suggestion of a “courtesy call”, it’s absurd. It’s now tampering with the law and an invitation for a lawsuit. It doesn’t matter if the client is a wanted person.

This misconception would only discourage an accused person or anyone from going to a lawyer’s office to seek legal advice and can also encourage lawyers do their legal business elsewhere under a coconut tree or breadfruit tree poo nisi nofoaga pouliuli ma le pogisa. That’s savage. Lest we forget that everyone is “presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

This malicious attack is a classic case of Police overstepping their jurisdiction, abuse of power and process, impinging on solicitor-clients privilege and infringing on clients basic right and access to Justice. “Ua tuu maa ae maa i aau”.

I am incline to think that the timing of the complaint is a calculated move to distract and indirectly remove counsel from this case. So I welcome this complaint with open arms and I am prepared to defend my office, my profession, and my reputation.

Oute fa’afetai atu ai foi ia i latou o lagolago mai aemaise o nai aiga ma uo o valaau mai ma ofo alofa ma lafo mai i feau faamalosi au. Malo le onosai ma le lava papale. Aua le popole o loo to’a pea le tai. It’s only a storm in a teacup.

Though it’s quite unfortunate that the complaint now affects counsels continuation in these much anticipated case. But I also appreciate the opportunity to step down and take a time off for my family and to feed my pigs. After all, there is a bright side to every conflict.🤓

Happy Sunday Samoa. Peace out.



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