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Samoa: New Crimes Act Comes into Force

(May 1, 2013) The Parliament of the Independent State of Samoa recently enacted the Crimes Act 2013, which replaces and modernizes the Crimes Ordinance 1961. (Crimes Act 2013, Parliament of Samoa website.) The new legislation came into force on May 1, 2013.

The Crimes Act 2013 contains a range of new offenses, including “computer-related offences, people smuggling and trafficking, offences that cater for complex fraud offences such as stealing land, offences relating to invasion of privacy pertaining to people engaging in sexual activities [i.e. voyeurism], [and] offences relating to the distribution of sexual material using mobile phones.” (Updated Crimes Act Passed, Samoa Observer (Apr. 28, 2013).)

The penalties for sexual offenses have also been increased under the Act. The maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape has been maintained, while the penalty for incest has increased from 7 to 20 years of imprisonment, and the penalty for attempted rape increased from 10 to 14 years. (Samoa Gets New Crimes Act, Radio New Zealand (Apr. 30, 2013).)

Outdated offenses have also been removed by the legislation. For example, it will no longer be an offense for a male to dress as a female. The Attorney-General of Samoa, Aumua Ming Leung Wai, said that “with Samoan society where we accept fa’fafines [sic], males who are more feminine, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to make it illegal for them to wear women’s clothes. And we have several fa’afines [sic] who come to work and they wear women’s clothes and under the crimes ordinance that is an offence. And I think that’s certainly something that we had to remove from our law books.” (Samoa’s Law Updated to Tackle 21st Century Crime, Radio Australia (May 1, 2013); Johanna Schmidt, Gender Diversity – Fa’afafine,Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (last updated July 13, 2012)..)

The Crimes Ordinance 1961 is the first of a series of criminal laws to be updated. Reforms are also being prepared for the Criminal Procedure Act 1972 and the Evidence Ordinance 1961, and a new Sentencing Act has also been proposed. (Updated Crimes Act Passed, supra.) A government working group has been established to examine the laws, with the Samoa Law Reform Commission having published several issue papers and leading public consultation processes on possible reforms. (Id.; References, Samoa Law Reform Commission website (last visited May 1, 2013).)