Parliament yesterday endorsed the government’s plan to re-introduce the Criminal Libel Act into the law books of Samoa.
Abolished by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party in 2013, Members of Parliament unanimously agreed to bring back the law when Parliament reconvened for the last time this year at Tuana’imato yesterday.
The bill passed the first, second and third reading within less than an hour.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Mailielegaoi has been instrumental in bringing back the law, as part of a government-driven effort to clamp down on “ghost writers” such as “Ole Palemia” and others who use fake social media pages to attack members of the public.
Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Fa’afisi, said the re-introduction of the law was expedited due to the urgent nature of the issues it sets out to deal with.
Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainuu, introduced the Bill in Parliament. He said the law is not new.
“This amendment is in relation to defamation,” he said. “Currently there is a clause to have this case before the Court for a civil claim. The amendment today is to add on the criminal prosecution for defamation.
“People have asked as to why we need to reinstate the criminal libel when the matter can be dealt with through civil.
“In a civil claim, there is a need for lawyers to represent your case and most of our people cannot afford a lawyer; whereas the Criminal Libel the matter can be prosecuted by the Police and you would not need a lawyer.
The Minister also talked about the history of the law.
“It was abolished back in 2013 based on legal opinions of some lawyers however the government sees the need to reinstate this law following requests by members of the public who want to pursue cases before the Court but cannot afford a legal counsel,” said Fa’aolesa.
The Bill amends the Crimes Act 2013 with introduction of a new Part 9A for crimes against a person’s reputation.
This is according to the explanatory memorandum, which further says the offence being introduced under this Part is “False statement causing harm to a person’s reputation”.
“The rationale for introducing the offence is to address harm done to a person’s reputation by another person who publishes false information about that person.
“This is similar to defamatory libel and although civil proceedings for defamation are available to the public, the reality is, not all Samoans have access to these proceedings as not all are able to afford legal services required for such proceedings.
“It is therefore on that premise that this offence is introduced into the Crimes Act 2013 to allow any member of the public to have access to the criminal justice system in dealing with the harm suffered due to false information being published.
“- provides for the short title and commencement.
- provides for the insertion of a new Part 9A with a new section 117A which provides that a person who publishes information about another person that is false with the intention to cause harm to that person’s reputation, commits an offence,” says the Memorandum on the Amendment.
Member of Parliament, Fonotoe Lauofo Pierre supports the Bill and commended Fa’aolesa for reinstating the measure that will better serve members of public who are victims of defamation.
“The passage of the amendment couldn’t come at a better time, given the advancement of technology nowadays.
“This amendment criminalizes those who publish untrue comments, and most especially nowadays with the use of social media.
“What comes to mind is the utilization of cell phones via texts, where users send threatening and defaming remarks and this has escalated over the years.
“That is why I want to thank the Minister.”
He spoke about an incident out of his Village where this same issue was discussed.
“Members of the youth were making unwelcoming remarks towards others,” he said.
“It’s saddened to see such actions and this also applies to emails and that is why this amendment couldn’t come at a better time,” said Fonotoe.
CRIMES AGAINST A PERSON’S REPUTATION AMENDMENT
False statement causing harm to a person’s reputation:
1. (1) A person commits an offence who publishes by any means information:
1. (a) about another person;
2. (b) that is false;
3. (c) with the intention to cause harm to that person’s reputation.
2. (2) It is a defence under this section if the information published
3. (3) A person who commits a crime under this section is liable
on conviction to a fine not exceeding 175 penalty units or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three (3) months.”.