An independent judiciary absolutely critical

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

We live in an interesting time, one defined by countless challenges which require every member of our society, to step up to do their part. Everyone has a role to play. 

Whether you’re the Head of State, Prime Minister, Church Minister, matai or just an ordinary villager, each and everyone of us has a responsibility to make this a better place to live. 

All roles are important. This is a democratic country after all. 

It means people’s rights are paramount but for those rights to be protected, it is mandatory that the three branches of government, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, are independent of each other. 

One should not interfere with the other and members of the public must not try to meddle in carrying out their duties. 

In Samoa this week where the 27th Pacific Judicial Conference is taking place at the Taumeasina Island Resort, one particular branch, the Judiciary, is under the spotlight. The conference being attended by who’s who of the Judiciary in the Pacific and the world was officially opened yesterday.

For the next few days, the participants are dealing with a number of issues including human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime, illegal fishing, climate change and more. 

The issues reflect the different challenges the world is faced with. As leaders of the Judiciary, their work has been cut out for them and they have a job to do.

But they do not operate in a vacuum.  

On Sunday, the point about just how critical it is for the Judiciary to be independent of the other pillars of governance was highlighted. Made by United States Court of Appeals Senior Judge and Chief Judge Emeritus, John Clifford Wallace, on the front page of Sunday Samoan, it is a timely reminder given everything that has been happening in Samoa in the recent past involving the Judiciary. We will not delve into them today. 

Suffice to say, it is critical for the Executive and the Legislature to respect the independence of the Judiciary. The Judiciary has such an important role to play.

The wisdom shared by Judge Wallace on the Sunday Samoan is worth listening to.

“Every judge wants an independent judiciary,” he said. “The foundation of that type of government to protect people’s rights is the three branch of Government, each one being independent of the others but being balanced.”

So why is it important?

“There are times when an executive has to be called in to check, there are times when the legislature is passed in unconstitutional statutes, so unless the judiciary is independent regardless of whom the President is or who the Legislature is, people’s rights are not protected.” 

During the interview with the Sunday Samoan, Judge Wallace made reference to a quote by American statesman and one of its founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.

“Alexander said more than 200 years ago that the Judiciary is really the weakest branch. The President has the army and the navy, Legislature has the money and the Judiciary doesn’t have any of those.”

In that case, he pointed out that the question to ponder upon is how the Judiciary then gets its independence. 

“My view is that the judiciary gets its independence when the people are independent, that is the judiciary has the responsibility to being so effective with the people who rely on the judiciary to protect everybody’s rights,” he said. 

“When that happens, the judiciary will then gain its strength because the people generally want it to be independent and to check the other branches of Government and bring politicians and leaders to task.” 

We say amen to that. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to people power. It is what people want. Which reminds us of the words of Abraham Lincoln who coined the famous phrase of the “government of the people, by the people, for the people…” in relation to governance. Lincoln went on to say such a form of governance “shall not perish from the earth.”

We cannot stress enough how important it is for the judiciary to be independent. Looking at Samoa today, the Government has become so powerful.

We must not allow them to reach a point where they will try to interfere with the role of the judiciary. This is why we believe that the point raised about the need to respect the independence of the judiciary could not have been said at a better time. Samoa desperately needs to maintain those checks and balance.

We take this opportunity to welcome all the Justices, Judges, the experts and all participants who are in Samoa for the 27th Pacific Judicial Conference. Enjoy your visit and do take some time to check out our beautiful home. 

Have a great Tuesday and God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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