6 May 2019

Defendants must be informed of their rights, says Samoa CJ

2:22 pm on 6 May 2019

Samoa's acting chief justice has highlighted the need for people charged with serious crimes to be informed of their right to legal aid.

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept, court

Photo: ikiryo/123RF

Vui Clarence Nelson declared a mistrial in the case of a woman who tried to defend herself because she could not afford a lawyer.

Newsline Samoa reported he halted court proceedings on the third day of the case against Dora Enele, who allegedly stole money from the Seabreeze Resort while working as the accounts manager.

Justice Vui said he doubted the woman had been made aware of her rights and he ordered whole new court process on the matter after the defendant was granted legal aid and instructed to employ a lawyer.

Ms Enele is to re-appear in court again today for mention.

"Only qualified counsel could have assisted her in that regard," Justice Vui said.

"She told the court she did not engage a lawyer because she could not afford one. She did not understand that she could apply for legal aid to pay for a lawyer," he said.

Prosecution lawyers told the court that Enele was informed that if she wanted, she had a right to seek legal aid.

"I don't doubt counsel's word but unfortunately, there is no record of this on file. It's also possible such matters get lost in translation," Justice

Vui said.

"This case highlights again that defendants accused of serious crimes are informed of their constitutional rights."