Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, has reinforced his Office’s strong support for the fight against domestic violence in Samoa.
He has also made it clear violence of any sort is unacceptable and the perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions.
Lemalu made the point when he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into Domestic Violence last week.
He said that while there are “strong legislation and protective laws” in place by the Samoa government to protect victims of domestic violence, the question is whether they are being implemented.
“Domestic Violence is alive and well, and I think way back in 2012, 46% of women have experienced it, that is remarkably bad because that’s half of the population of women in our country,” he said.
The Attorney General said the laws have changed in 2013 to assist with the predicament.
“The laws in Samoa are quite strong and obviously there have been quite a lot of reforms.”
Lemalu also noted the need to continue to monitor the domestic violence statistics. He reiterated the strong protective laws put in place to protect the victims.
The implementation of protective laws such as the “No Drop Policy” will depend on social attitude.
“The No Drop Policy states that if a person or a complainant approaches a police officer, there is an assumption in the law the complaint needs to be taken, signed and charges should be filed."
“There is no position allowing the police officer to, all of the sudden, become the mediator or all of a sudden become the expert on family and domestic violence."
“The fact of the matter is the person has gone out of their way to tell the Police officer ‘I was assaulted in this way and this is my formal complaint, I didn't come here for an advice or your opinion I came here to charge this person.’"
“That is the assumption on the No Drop Policy. It’s not perfect but it was introduced into our country formally as law in 2013, informally as a policy in 2006 by the Attorney General then, who was trying to fan it along,” said Lemalu.
Lemalu also expressed his personal views on modernized ways the victim can give evidence in Court without being present.
“At times the complainant’s nervousness and control over the victim can have an influence on the day of giving evidence."
“As a former prosecutor, you hope the person pleads guilty and so the victim never has to give evidence."
“The complainant in my view must feel they are protected from the moment they go to the Police, to make the complaint up until the day they testify in court where the evidence is given."
“The court room is a very intimidating place anyway, even for lawyers, and you can imagine domestic violence complainant. The person, who has the contextual control over you outside of the courtroom, is in the same room.”
Lemalu said nowadays there were alternative methods of giving evidence.
“The traditional method and from a criminal defense perspective, if you make a complaint and point your finger at the defendant, you should come and face the person that you are accusing."
“You should be able to sit there and look at the person and say this is the person who did this to me, and be crossed examined by defense counsel, after giving your testimony,” said Lemalu.
According to Lemalu, Samoa needs to consider the utilization of closed-circuit television also known as video surveillance or C.C.T.V.
The Attorney-General believes there is a need to look at overseas methods in terms of giving evidence.
“There’s no stigma over giving evidence, as the person may not be in the court, the demeanor can be read they can still give evidence and be aggressively cross examined by the defense lawyer, while they are being observed, the Evidence Act needs to look at in terms of accountability,” said Lemalu.
Yesterday, Lemalu reiterated his Office’s position in a statement issued by the Press Secretary.
“The message from this office is clear, domestic violence of any kind is unacceptable and those who commit it, where the evidence supports, will be prosecuted," he said.