16 Apr 2019

Samoa's Lands and Titles Court President convicted

5:14 am on 16 April 2019
Fepulea’i Attila Ropati

Fepulea’i Attila Ropati Photo: RNZ Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

Samoa's court of appeal has convicted the Lands and Titles court President, Fepulea'i Attila Ropati, on one count of intentionally causing bodily harm and ordered the defendant to pay a total fine of $US3,500.

The penalty fine includes a reparation cost of $US850 to be paid to the victim and complainant who is the security officer of the court.

The judge had attacked the security officer during his end of the year function in 2017.

Last year, the president had pleaded guilty to the charge when he appeared in the district court.

However, in passing sentence in May 2018 the district court judge discharged the defendant without a conviction which was the subject of the appeal.

The appeal court has now ruled the presiding judge of the district court, who was dealing with the case, materially understated the gravity of the offence.

"The Judge also downplayed the injuries. She did not regard them as serious, describing them as a minor, and therefore surface, laceration. In her view the complainant had to take some blame for the extent of his injuries for failing to get treatment," the ruling said.

The court of appeal has also pointed out the judge overlooked the complainant's shame and loss of face in being assaulted by a respected superior and the likelihood that he was trying to protect him from the likely consequences of reporting the attack.

"Our conclusion on disproportionality makes it unnecessary to exercise the statutory discretion that would otherwise follow. We would simply add two comments. There is no doubting the consequences of a conviction for the respondent personally, and for his career."

"However it is also of fundamental importance that the judiciary not be seen to be protecting one of its own. Judges are expected to conduct themselves to the highest standards. They must be held to account like all other members of the community. In similar circumstances other offenders have suffered significant penalties for serious assaults involving a weapon directed to vulnerable areas of the body", the ruling said.

Judges of Samoa Court of Appeal

Judges of Samoa Court of Appeal Photo: RNZ Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs