top of page

Samoa Government Can Take Solace in Supreme Court Ruling on L.T.C. President Removal.


In a significant legal ruling, the Supreme Court of Samoa declared the removal of Letufuga Atilla Ropati as President of the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.) inconsistent with the Constitution. However, the Government of Samoa can find solace in the outcome, which is not as severe as initially feared.


Justice Michael Whitten K.C. ruled that Letufuga’s removal violated the principles of judicial independence and awarded him WST$750,000 in compensation. This decision followed Letufuga's removal from office 20 months ago and his subsequent legal battle against Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and the Government.


Background and Legal Proceedings

On 20 October 2022, Letufuga was removed from his position via a letter of annulment from Prime Minister Fiame, citing constitutional amendments in the L.T.C. package law. Letufuga then filed a lawsuit against the Prime Minister, the current L.T.C. President Lesatele Rapi Vaai, and the Government of Samoa, seeking $3.5 million in damages. During the trial, Justice Whitten dismissed the claims against Fiame, and those against Lesatele were withdrawn.


Court’s Ruling

Justice Whitten ruled that the removal of Letufuga under section 67(6) of the Lands and Titles Act 2020 was unconstitutional. The introduction of Part 5A in the LTA 2020 did not provide adequate transitional arrangements for Letufuga, who should have been protected by constitutional provisions regarding judicial independence and security of tenure.


The Attorney General argued that Letufuga’s removal was lawful under the LTA 2020 and necessary for appointing a new President. However, Justice Whitten found that the removal violated Article 104D(3) of the Constitution, which requires the Head of State and a two-thirds majority of Parliament to remove the President of the L.T.C.


Partial Victory for the Government

Despite the ruling, the outcome is not as severe as initially feared. Initially, an award of 10-14 years of compensation was considered; however, the court has only awarded 5 years. To date, the government has already paid two years’ compensation amounting to about WST$200,000.


The Government of Samoa's liability was primarily due to the legislative framework, which did not provide proper judicial protection. This context significantly mitigates the impact of the court's decision on the government's position.


Compensation and Judicial Independence

Justice Whitten's conclusion that Letufuga’s removal breached constitutional protections and principles of judicial independence affirmed his entitlement to WST$750,000 in compensation. The court noted that Letufuga was neither offered an appropriate position in the new L.T.C. nor compensated, which further contravened judicial independence standards.


Representation

Letufuga was represented by lawyers Fuimaono Sefo Ainuu and Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio. The Attorney General’s Office was represented by Sua Hellene Wallwork and Letoafaiga FJ Fong.


The detailed 124-page ruling covered the historical context of the L.T.C., legislative reforms, and the legal nuances surrounding Letufuga’s position and removal. While the court’s decision underscores the importance of judicial independence, it also highlights the Government’s efforts in navigating the complexities of legislative reform.


In conclusion, the Supreme Court's ruling serves as a reminder of the importance of constitutional safeguards and judicial independence. However, the Government of Samoa can take comfort in the fact that the financial implications are less severe than initially anticipated, marking a partial victory in this legal saga.

240 views

Commenti


bottom of page