Samoa's application to throw out justices 'frivolous and silly' - legal expert

Samoa's Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, and law lecturer Fuimaono Dylan Asafo.
Samoa's Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, and law lecturer Fuimaono Dylan Asafo. Photo credit: Newshub

Samoa's Attorney General is seeking to remove judges from sitting on a critical election-related court case, claiming they've displayed a pattern of favouritism towards the FAST Party. 

But an Auckland legal scholar says it shows the Office of the Attorney General has been compromised and their claim is "frivolous and silly". 

Samoa's Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, lodged an application with the Supreme Court on Thursday morning. She's seeking to appeal a decision that overturned the addition of an extra female Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) member to Parliament. 

The Supreme Court called the addition of the extra seat "unconstitutional", giving FAST a 26-25 majority.

The crux of Savalenoa's claim is three judges, including Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese, are biased, with her office saying: "If we look at the previous trends, all decisions favour FAST!" 

Savalenoa, appointed by HRPP, says her office has:

  • "substantive evidence" questioning the impartiality and integrity of the judges
  • it claims "potential favouritism" and wants them "disqualified" 
  • the office proposes bringing in overseas replacements, potentially from New Zealand or Australia.

Law lecturer Fuimaono Dylan Asafo says in his opinion, the claim is a desperate attempt to stop FAST from coming into power.

"It's deeply troubling that the Office of the Attorney General, who is meant to be the leader of the bar and is trusted to uphold the rule of law, is now selectively using the constitution and weaponising the constitution to fulfill the wishes of the former caretaker Prime Minister," he says.

"Their central claim that judges should be accused because they have previously ruled against them is frivolous and silly."

Fuimaono says it's "deeply ironic" the caretaker government is now seeking foreign judges when legislation was passed last year with the purpose of "severely limiting" the influence of them. 

One of the judges the Attorney General is accusing of favouritism is Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese. He's a graduate of Victoria University in Wellington and Columbia University, New York, and was a barrister in Auckland between 1993 and May 2020. He started as Chief Justice in Samoa in mid-June 2020.

The Attorney General said the Chief Justice "did not declare" he is a second cousin of Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, the leader of FAST.

Retired Law Professor Bill Hodge says it's hard not to have a connection to someone in a small country. 

"It's an insult to the bench, it's an insult to the Judiciary, and hopefully going forward it won't reduce the confidence and respect that Samoans have for the judiciary as they should have and they do," he says.

The Attorney General also claims the Chief Justice trying to open the locked doors of Parliament on Monday may be in "contempt of Parliament" as the caretaker Speaker had stated Parliament would not resume. 

A spokesperson for the FAST Party labelled the actions of the Attorney General as a "delaying tactic", telling Newshub the caretaker government is desperate to create another 26-26 deadlock so it can call for fresh elections. 

The Attorney General's case will be heard on Monday, meaning Samoa's political standoff is far from over.