Judge For SPREP Employment Lawsuit: Attorneys Be Prepared

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Lawyers advised to research public international law and revise claims

By Lorraine Bowan

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Oct. 21, 2014) – The Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu yesterday advised two prominent lawyers in Samoa to thoroughly research public international law.

His Honour Patu made the point to the counsels for both parties in the Pauline Johnson vs the Secretariat of Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P) lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

Represented by Ruby Drake, the complainant, Ms Johnson is suing her former employer, S.P.R.E.P, which is represented by Semi Leung Wai.

Ms Johnson is claiming that her contract was terminated without completing a mediation process or reaching agreement on the payment of reimbursable expenses under the terms of her contract.

Expressing a degree of dissatisfaction with counsels' preparation, His Honour Patu yesterday said the understanding of public international law is extremely important in this particular hearing.

"The Diplomatic Immunity and Privileges Act is relevant to this case but if it is applied, where would an individual go for justice?" he said.

"They could not obtain justice in this country."

Two weeks ago, Chief Justice Patu denied a strike out motion by S.P.R.E.P allowing Ms Johnson [to continue pursuing her case against the organization].

The decision followed an attempt by Mr Leung Wai to strike out the claim on the grounds that S.P.R.E.P. had diplomatic immunity.

During the hearing, the Court was told that the Certificate of Immunity was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, ten days after notice of Ms Johnson’s suit was served on S.P.R.E.P.

This was despite the organization having been established in Apia since 16 June 1993, and not having been included in the 1998 Order listing all designated International Organizations with statutory diplomatic immunity and privileges.

When the question was directly put to Mr Leung Wai whether the granting of diplomatic immunity was in response to this case being brought against S.P.R.E.P, he declined to answer.

"Mr Leung Wai, given what the plaintiff has said, I am not sure that this is a hopeless case. The strike out principle only applies where it is obvious that there is no possibility it can succeed," Chief Justice Patu ruled.

In his determination, the Chief Justice upheld the principle of equality of arms, which is inherent in the right to fair trial, a human right guaranteed by the International Bill of Rights and the Samoan Constitution.

At the time, the Chief Justice advised the counsel for Ms Johnston to amend her statement of claim before yesterday’s hearing.

The Court yesterday heard that the complex questions of law will be dealt with first before addressing the questions of fact.

His Honour Patu then urged counsels to consult public administrative law and if necessary to further amend the statement of claim.

The hearing has been adjourned until 3 November.

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