Appeal Court rules in favor of former LTC President


The Appeal by the former Land and Titles Court President Letufuga Atilla Ropati against the Prime Minister is allowed. 

Justice Rhys Harrison, Justice Raynor Ashner and Justice Sir William Young, in their decision released yesterday, cited the appeal from a judgment of the Chief Justice of 31 October 20221 refusing an interlocutory application for an interim declaration, touches on extremely difficult and serious issues as to the Land and Titles Court.

According to the Appeal Court, the issue at hand is problematic not only for the LTC system in Samoa but also because they touch on the tenure of a senior judge and thus the independence of the judiciary. 

Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa last year informed Letufuga of her intention to remove him from office, and at the same time, a new LTC President was announced. In turn, Letufuga filed legal action. 

The appeal’s court noted a lack of clarity in the language of the  Constitution Amendment Act 2020 and the Land and Titles Act 2020, and secondly, procedural complexities as to whether the 14 April 2022 judgment of the Supreme Court in President of the Land Titles Court v The Attorney-General (the April 2022 judgment)2 precludes the current claim by the appellant.

In the judgment under appeal, delivered under constraints of urgency and without the benefit of entire argument, the Chief Justice approached the application on the basis that there is jurisdiction to grant an interim declaration against the government but that such a declaration should be granted only if it is reasonably necessary to preserve the position of the applicant. 

The current position results from ill-drafted constitutional and legislative provisions that did not address whether the President and Samoan judges of the old Land and Titles Court should automatically take over the corresponding roles in the new Land and Titles Court. This was such a prominent issue that it should have been addressed squarely and explicitly at the time. 

The failure to do so has brought about the present imbroglio in which (a) two different people have arguable claims to be President of the new Land and Titles Court and (b) there is potential for what we think would be a messy situation should the appellant be held to be able to exercise the rights conferred on him under the April 2022 judgment.

The Justices ruled to allow the appeal to the extent of making an interim declaration that the appellant be paid a lump sum equivalent to salary and allowances for nine months, with leave reserved for him to apply to the Supreme Court for declarations as to additional payment should the substantive litigation not be resolved within three months. 

As a precondition of payment, the appellant must undertake to the Supreme Court to abide by any order that the Court may think fit to make for repayment following the determination of the substantive proceedings.

Also, the respondent is to pay the appellant costs of WST$ 5,000.