30 Apr 2013

Samoa gets new Crimes Act

5:49 pm on 30 April 2013

Samoa's new Crimes Act, which introduces harsher penalties for most sexual offences, comes into force May 1st.

The Samoa Attorney General says the Crimes Act 2013 is an updated version of the Crimes Ordinance, which is over 50 years old, and contained obsolete offences.

Leilani Momoisea reports.

The new Crimes Act provides the template for a harsher response to a spectrum of crimes, including many offences missing from the old document. The Attorney General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai, says it's hoped the increased penalties for sexual offences will deter people from committing these crimes.

"For rape, it has always been life imprisonment as the maximum, so that has remained. Incest for example used to be seven years, but come the first of May this year it will increase to 20 years maximum imprisonment term. We also have attempted rape that has increased, as well, from 10 years to 14 years."

The president of the Samoa Victim Support Group, Lina Chang, says the group was well represented during discussions for the new Act, and they're very happy with the outcome and the harsher penalties that are now in place.

It's also a way of helping change the mindsets of our people on it. and I feel that the new law coming out, it is very welcoming inside our country. With these harsher penalties now, to us it will benefit our work.

Aumua Ming Leung Wai says there have also been a number of new offences added to the Crimes Act, reflecting the increased use of the internet and mobile phones. He says there had been some provisions pertaining to cybercrime in the Telecommunications Act, but they were very limited and didn't cover areas such as spam and other cybercrime offences.

We have created a new offence - voyeurism. It's basically an offence if you were to record a person, or persons, without their permission while engaging in sexual activities. So that's been introduced. We've also used the opportunity to amend our Indecent Publications Ordinance to prohibit the passing of indecent material using mobile phones.

Our correspondent in Samoa, Autagavaiai Tipi Autagavaia, says the new laws are timely.

He cites the furore over an incident a couple of years ago involving a schoolgirl sending a private video of herself to her boyfriend, which soon spread and became public.

And I think it's right on time because communications wise, telephone and the Internet that we have right now, the influence of the overseas countries has come to Samoa so fast. And I think that's the reason why the government has established the Samoa Law Reform Commission. We're talking about the new millennium right now. We need to refurbish these laws and make new laws to cope with what's happening right now.

He says that while there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of public debate about the new Crimes Act, people are supportive of it.

The Samoa Victim Support Group says it is in the process of meeting with more than 400 village representatives to educate them on the new standing of the law, with awareness programmes to be carried out throughout the villages.