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WHAT TO DO WHEN GOING TO THE CRIMINAL/CIVIL COURTS

You may need to go to Court for a number of reasons including:

  • an accused person
  • a witness in either a criminal trial or civil trial
  • a party in a civil trial
  • a victim of crime
  • an assessor
  • an interested party
  • paying fines

A witness

A witness is someone who knows facts pertinent to a case. A witness may also give opinion evidence of matters of an expert nature or may be called to give evidence of the character of the person charged with an offence. The information given to the court by a witness is recorded as evidence, which is used to determine a judgment in the case.

In criminal trials, witnesses may be required by the prosecution (the side bringing the charge to court), or by the defence (the person charged and his/her lawyer). In the Court, criminal matters are prosecuted by the National Prosecution Office (NPO)

In civil trials, witnesses may be required by the plaintiff (the side bringing the action to court) or the defendant (the person defending the action).

The notice that the court issues to a witness to attend court are called a Summons. If a person (witness) was summoned and failed to turn up to give evidence, the Court may issued a warrant to bring that person to Court straight away.

What to Expect

You should attend the court on the date and time as arranged with the party requesting your attendance (or if you were served with a summons, on the date and time specified in the summons). Firstly, look at the case list to find out which courtroom the case is in.

When you have found the courtroom the case will be in, tell the Police Officer in that courtroom who you are and why you are there. Then take a seat and wait until you are required to give your evidence. Note that the process for a victim or vulnerable witness to give their testimony may be different, as it is aimed to protect them from the defendant.

When it is time for you to give your evidence, you will be asked to stand in the witness box. First, you will be sworn in. This means you must take an oath, or make an affirmation, to tell the truth. The most common form of oath will require you to hold the Bible while a court officer/police officer asks you,

"Do you swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

to which you reply,

"I swear."

Or you can choose instead to make an affirmation, in which case you will be asked to say;

"I [your name] do truly and solemnly declare and affirm that my evidence will be completely truthful."

Perjury (giving evidence you know to be false) is a serious criminal offence.

After you have been sworn in, you will be asked questions by the party who requested your attendance (i.e. if you are a witness for the prosecution, the prosecutor will ask you questions, or if you are a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will ask you questions). The Judge may also ask you questions while you are in the witness box. You should try to answer all questions as clearly and simply as possible.

When you have finished giving your evidence, the other side may cross-examine you, i.e. they may ask further questions about the evidence you have just given.

The amount of time you will have to spend in court depends on the nature of the trial and where you fit in as a witness. Some trials can be over in an hour or two; others can take days, weeks or months. You may be required to attend court again on subsequent dates to give more evidence.

Interpreters

If you need the help of an interpreter to give evidence in court, tell the person who asked you to be a witness. They will inform the court that you need an interpreter and what language you speak. The court will then arrange for an interpreter to be present.

Court Behaviour

Courtrooms are open to the public except in special circumstances when the court orders otherwise. Seating is provided in the public gallery usually at the back of the courtroom.

General Protocols

When you enter and exit the courtroom, it is customary to acknowledge respect for the laws of the land, the court and its judiciary. This is simply a matter of pausing briefly at the door and bowing your head towards the Judicial Officer.

When a Judicial officer (Justice / Judge) enters or leaves the courtroom, it is customary to stand and bow and remain standing until the Judicial Officer has departed. The Judicial Officer is in charge of the courtroom and may order the removal of anybody who misbehaves or is dressed inappropriately.

You should stand whenever the Judge is talking to you, or you are talking to the judge

The following are not permitted in the courtroom:

  • talking, smoking, eating and chewing gum
  • video or other cameras, tape recorders, two-way radios or other electronic equipment.
  • No telephones allowed

You must turn off your mobile phone, pager and the alarm on your watch while in the courtroom.

You do not need to wear a suit when going to court but your dress should be neat and smart. It is inappropriate to wear singlets, thongs, hat or sunglasses in the courtroom.

It is traditional for Judges and lawyers to wear gowns in the Supreme and District Courts.
In court, it is important that you follow directions and pay attention. You should never be hostile.

A trial is a structured proceeding for the orderly collection of factual evidence by the Court. Fundamental to this process is that each party is allowed to speak in turn presenting their case. It is quite possible that you disagree with the information/evidence the other side is putting to the Judicial Officer. If so, make a note of the errors and correct them when it is your turn to speak, as well as putting your information/evidence to the Judicial Officer.

Addressing a Judicial Officer

A Judge or Justice is addressed as Your Honour’, ‘Sir’ or 'Madam’.

CIVIL & CRIMINAL COURTS DIVISION

Provides support services, manages and processes cases for the Criminal and Civil Courts (Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, District Court and the Faamasino Fesosoani Court). They inform public coming to Court Complex on any requirements with regards to criminal and civil matters brought before the Courts.

The Court Officers of all Courts are representatives of the Registrar in Court during Court taking. It is part of their role to translate proceedings in the Court from English to Samoan if needed. If Court is conducted in Samoan language and some parties do not speak and understand Samoan, the Court taker translates proceedings into English.

The Court officers also provides daily list on boards for matters to be called before each Court.

1. Court Annexed Mediation Unit (CAMU)

This unit was set up to manage the referral of matters from Court (Supreme & District Court) for mediation. This is a follow through on the enactment of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2007.

The Amendment in 2013 to the ADR describes alternative dispute resolution as a process used to resolve disputes between parties in civil and criminal proceedings which is outside the usual court-based litigation model and includes processes of mediation, arbitration etc. Mediation Rules were also commenced in 2013 outlining the process for arranging mediation of matters referred from the Court.

Mediation therefore is a dispute resolution process in which an impartial person, the mediator assists parties to:

  • Identify the issues in dispute
  • Explore and generate options
  • Communicate with one another
  • Resolve their dispute

The Court Annexed Mediation Unit (CAMU) of the Ministry was set up to cater for Court referred mediations. The Unit arranges and schedule mediations as well as providing the list of accredited mediators to the parties in accordance with the Mediation Rules 2013. The Unit can also provide information about the mediators and explain to the parties what mediation is and what they can expect from the mediation process. The Unit keeps a list of all accredited mediators and only Accredited Mediators of Samoa Association are allowed under the Act/Rules to mediate court referred matters.

The Unit also administers the affairs of the Mediation Council as well as the Mediation Accreditation Board.

2. Civil & Criminal Registry

The Civil Registry is responsible for:

  • receiving and processing all documents lodged to the Ministry for both Civil and Criminal Courts.
  • It is the principal point of reference for enquiries for the legal profession and the public and check point for all incoming applications.

The Criminal Registry is a centralised service which serves both Supreme and District Criminal Courts. It ensures that the criminal listing and case flow management system is administered efficiently and maximises the use of judicial resources. It receives and processes Court committal files, informations, (the documents lodged by the Director of Public Prosecutions to initiate criminal proceedings), as well as applications for bail, bail variation and review of bail applications for leave to appeal.

About MJCA

Ministry of Justice, Courts and Administration

Mulinuu, Samoa

P.O. Box 49

info@mjca.gov.ws

Upolu Numbers:

  • phone : (685) 22671 - 74
  • Fax : (685) 21050

Savaii Numbers:

  • Phone : (685) 53514
  • Fax : (685) 53513
Please address all correspondences to the Chief Executive Officer / Registrar of the Courts.


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