Law News speaks to new Attorney-General for Samoa

A lawyer with Kiwi connections – senior lawyer at the Public Defence Service (PDS), Hermann Retzlaff – has recently been appointed as Attorney-General for Samoa.

Hermann Rezlaff

While Mr Retzlaff originally hails from Samoa, he has been living and practising in New Zealand for the last 11 years, since coming over here in 2005 to take up a position as a Crown Prosecutor with Meredith Connell.

“Mr Retzlaff has made a significant contribution to the work of the Ministry of Justice’s Public Defence Service,” said Ministry of Justice Chief Executive Andrew Bridgman in congratulating Mr Retzlaff on his appointment. “Over the last six years he has worked in the Auckland, Manukau and Waitakere offices as a senior lawyer and most recently as Acting Deputy Public Defender on the North Shore. “I’m sure Mr Retzlaff will be a great asset to the Government of Samoa and my colleagues and I wish him well in the position,” Mr Bridgman said.

In becoming Samoa’s Attorney-General, Mr Retzlaff is actually following in his own father’s footsteps (Misa Telefoni Hermann Retzlaff held the position from 1986 to 1988 before going on to be a Member of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minster of Samoa).

However, for Mr Retzlaff (junior), the appointment was not really something he had on his radar. The possibility first arose in November last year, when Mr Retzlaff was a faculty member for the Crown Law/MFAT-sponsored litigation skills and leadership programme for the Pacific Island Legal Network (PILON), hosted in Samoa.

“I was gently encouraged to consider applying for the role when I was recently in Samoa and it became apparent that the current Attorney- General may not stand for office again” he says. He still, however, had to go through a rigorous application process competing with other applicants and one that ultimately ended with Cabinet approval.

Mr Retzlaff says he didn’t tell his father that he had applied for the same job he once held – at least not until everything was official.

“I wanted it to be a complete surprise for him. I have some big shoes to fill, but he was very excited for me – all the family is very humbled by this honour.”

Mr Retzlaff says that he is looking forward to many aspects of being Attorney-General, especially overseeing possible law reforms. He is also excited about working on increasing access to justice where possible.

“The challenge will be making sure that there is a smooth transition from the work that the former Attorney-General (who was in the role for nine years) has been doing in terms of infrastructural changes. I want to build on those positive foundations and find the best way forward for any legislative changes that might be needed.

“It will also be interesting to explore, from a legal point of view, what Samoa’s place should be in the international arena. It is part of the World Trade Organisation now, and I will be looking at what impact, if any, this may have on Samoa’s domestic laws. Although Samoa is a small island, it still has a role to play on the global stage.”

Once the appointment was made, both the Government and Mr Retzlaff were keen for him to take up his new role as soon as possible, which he will do shortly (on 18 April 2016). He and his family will move from Auckland to Samoa to live on a full-time basis.

“It has all been a bit of a rush, he says – there was not much time for packing up his life here and tying-off any loose ends. However, with his parents and some of his siblings still living in Samoa he is hopeful that his family will settle in quickly.

“It will be good to go back and catch up with my roots and my extended family, although having said that I’ll probably only be able to do so on Sunday afternoons as I think I’ll be quite busy to start with!

“I am also looking forward to taking my two sons home to Samoa. They were both born here [in New Zealand] and although they’ve been back for visits, they’ve never had a full experience of living there. I think it will do them a world of good – they say they’re worried about being a bit homesick for New Zealand, but I think after a few swims in the ocean and some family barbecues they’ll be fine!”

Although he is moving to Samoa and farewelling our shores for the time being, Mr Retzlaff anticipates still having much to do with lawyers from New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations.

“I am counting on it!” he says. “Part of the encouragement I received to apply for the role came from former colleagues and supervisors at both Meredith Connell and the Public Defence Service, and a big part of the job will be to maintain those support systems.”

By way of example, he mentions Director of the PDS, Madeleine Laracy, who has long been a key supporter of the Attorney-General’s Office in Samoa. Similarly, leading prosecutor Kieran Raftery QC, with whom Mr Retzlaff worked at Meredith Connell, has had an ongoing relationship with Samoa for many years. He has also contacted Crown Solicitor Mr Brian Dickey of Meredith Connell to establish a link with them before he travels. “If not for Meredith Connell and the Public Defence Service giving me the opportunities I have had, my family and I would not be in this position today.”

Mr Retzlaff is confident that he can count on their continued support in the future and says he feels very lucky to have had people like that behind him: “It was a big part of encouraging me to have a crack at it.”

Mr Retzlaff says that returning to Samoa and taking up the mantle of Attorney-General will feel like coming “full circle” in many ways.

“It was a big move when we moved here for me to start at Meredith Connell, and it will be a big move going back. Now, it feels like I am getting the chance to take back to Samoa the skills I’ve learnt and the opportunities New Zealand has given me. I just want to be able to sow back the best I can, into the home country.”

Mr Retzlaff will be officially appointed Attorney- General as ‘Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff’, to acknowledge the chiefly ‘matai’ title that his mother’s family bestowed on him.

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