History of Government and Laws, Part 8
The Development of the System of Government and Laws
of Pitcairn Island From 1791 to 1971"
Printed in and taken from Laws of Pitcairn, Henderson,
Ducie and Oeno Islands, Rev. Ed., 1971
By Donald McLoughlin, B.A., LL.B.
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The Simons Constitution and Laws of 1904
The system of parliamentary government introduced in Pitcairn Island
with the 1893 Constitution and Laws was to prove short lived, lasting
in fact for a little over 11 years. In practice it proved too cumbersome
for the small island community and just did not work. Whether this
was attributable to the system itself or to the state of affairs
on the island is difficult to say at this juncture. All that can
be said is that the general state of laxity within the community,
reported on prior to its introduction, did not improve. At the same
time the increased interest in the Island shown by the officers
of the Western Pacific High Commission resulting on the application
to Pitcairn of the Western Pacific Order in Council, 1893, and on
the Island's one and only murder case in 1897, resulted in a substantial
re-evaluation of the whole position culminating in a visit to the
Island in 1904 by Mr. Simons.
Although the pre-1893 position did appear to have improved during
the first 8 years of the operation of the new constitution, the
Islanders relapsed into their former state once they began to lose
confidence in their only really strong personality and leader, James
Russell McCoy, and the general feeling of dissatisfaction with the
state of their affairs was again apparent on the Island(41).
Simons, reporting in 1904 on his own observations in relation
to the operation of the 1893 Constitution stated as follows:---
For some time this method of administration worked harmoniously
enough, and it is only within the past two or three years that
inquietude has been manifest. During my visit to the island I
perceived that the functions of the Members of Parliament had
become merged in those of the President: that the judges annually
elected were oftentimes incompetent to deal with the matters brought
before them and frequently incapable of enforcing their decisions:
that jealousies amongst the officials had become rife and that,
in view of the general laxity observable, a radical change was
necessary. Accordingly, before my departure from Pitcairn Island
and in accordance with Your Excellency's instructions of the 26th
of February last, I inaugurated a new system of government based
on the requirements of the community as I found them.(42)
On the morals of the islanders Simons reported:---
With regard to the morals of the islanders in the aggregate,
I fear I can say little in their favour; Fornication, adultery,
illegitimate children, petty thefts, brawls, bad language, etc.,
are faults amongst them (happily they do not use intoxicants)
and it was disquieting to learn that the laws and regulations
dealing with these offences had seldom been enforced. Indeed the
general laxity has been so great that abortion, brought about
by means of drugs and instruments of local contrivance, was not
of infrequent occurrence. I have made provision for the punishment
of that and of other crimes in the future.(43)
Later in his report, Simons, after stating that the Islanders were
exemplary in their attendance at work day prayer meetings
and church gatherings went on to say but, nevertheless,
vulgar stories and obscene songs are not unknown to them and it
is an alleged fact that, on suitable occasions, women will accompany
the men on board of passing ships, ostensibly to sell curios, but
in reality for immoral purposes.(44)
So, apparently on the instructions of the High Commissioner for
the Western Pacific(45), Simons set to work to draft a code of laws
and to devise another system of government for the Island. For the
first time Pitcairn was to have a code of laws and system of government
not devised by an officer of the Royal Navy but by a civilian official.
The principal feature of the new code of laws was the abolition
of the parliamentary system of government introduced by the 1893
Constitution, and its replacement by a reversion to the traditional
form of government under the head of an annually elected Chief Magistrate
with the assistance of a council of four of whom two, called Assessors,
were elected annually by the people and the remaining two known
as the Chairman of the External Committee and the Chairman of the
Internal Committee respectively, elected annually by the Chief Magistrate
and the two Assessors. In addition it provided for the new post
of an annually elected Government Secretary to perform all the necessary
administrative functions on the island under the directions of the
Chief Magistrate and also the functions of Government Treasurer(46).
In establishing the complete precedence of the Chief Magistrate
as the principal official authority on the Island, Simons accepted
the trend apparent under the former Parliamentary System of Government
for the functions of the members of the Parliament to be merged
in those of the former President. By reducing the number of officials
he apparently hoped to achieve a more competent government in which
the other officials could exert more influence by the creation of
separate committees charged respectively with the internal and external
affairs of the Island, and working to the Chief Magistrate in Council.
These committees elected by the Chief Magistrate in Council were
empowered to draw up local regulations which were to become law
on being approved and promulgated by the Chief Magistrate in Council.
The Island Court was also re-constituted with the Chief Magistrate
as chief judicial authority sitting alone in minor cases, involving
a penalty of five pounds or less and with the two annually elected
Assessors, in all other cases. Provision was made for regular settings
of the Court on the Monday of the second and fourth weeks of each
month and in the event of any serious cases occurring for which
provision was not made in the local laws and regulations for jurisdiction
to be exercised by the High Commissioner's Court for the Western
Pacific sitting at Pitcairn Island as occasion may require under
the provisions of the Western Pacific Order in Council, 1893.
As regards the laws themselves, these remained much the same as
under the 1893 Constitution but somewhat improved upon and expanded.
For instance the former Law 1, which provided for the punishment
of any unsuccessful complainant before the Court, was now abolished,
as was the former Law 20 which provided the death penalty for a
dog found killing fowls or eating eggs, although the latter law
was soon re-enacted by the islanders in the new regulations drawn
up by the Internal Committee and approved and promulgated by the
Chief Magistrate in Council(47).
Other changes effected were that seduction of a girl under the
age of 14 became a specific offence by the new Law 2, which also
made provision for the father of an illegitimate child to be fined
five pounds plus a sum of 2/- a week for the maintenance of the
child until it attained the age of 14 years. This law read with
Law 5, which made it an offence for unmarried persons of either
sex to congregate together in such a manner as to cause scandal
or to endanger the morals of the young members of the community,
was to receive a somewhat quaint interpretation by the Island Court.
Within a few years, it invariably imposed a fine of five pounds
on both the mother and the father of an illegitimate child even
though the mother was the complainant before the Court, and only
rarely made any order against the father for the maintenance of
Specific provision was made for cases of rape which by Law 3 were
required to be referred to the High Commissioner's Court for the
Western Pacific as were cases involving the new offence of abortion.
Other provisions were introduced relating to the use of firearms
for which a licence was required for the first time at the rates
of 2d. for 3 months, 3d. for 6 months and 6d. for a year, thereby
constituting Pitcairn's first and only form of taxation and in consequence
its sole source of official revenue apart from court fines until
the introduction of the first issue of postage stamps in 1940.
More detailed provisions were also made for court procedures, including
provision for the taking of evidence of children, acquainting foreigners
with the laws and regulations of the Island and prohibiting the
importation of alcohol by islanders except for medicinal purposes
and then only with the written permission of the Chief Magistrate,
and restricting the importation of alcohol by other residents and
foreigners to that required for their personal use, and that also
subject to the written sanction of the Chief Magistrate.
Provision was also made for the Chief Magistrate assisted by his
Council to hold inquiry into the death of any person under suspicious
circumstances and for a report thereon to be forwarded for consideration
by the Deputy Commissioner.
Additions were made to the laws by Captain E. S. S. Gaunt of H.M.S.
Cambrian in 1906 and approved by Mr. Simons, making
provision for the issue by the Chief Magistrate of a search warrant
for the purpose of discovering stolen property and prohibiting the
boarding of any passing ship until it had been definitely ascertained
that no sickness of any kind existed on board.
These laws were supplemented by instructions relating to the conduct
of elections of government officials, including the Chief Magistrate
and the two Assessors, on a day between the 20th and the 25th of
December in each year. The persons eligible to vote comprised all
native born inhabitants of Pitcairn Island over the age of 18 years.
Foreigners were only to be permitted to take part in an election
and local affairs if the other members of the community agreed.
They were absolutely prohibited, however, from election to the post
of Chief Magistrate or as an Assessor, these posts being reserved
for natives of Pitcairn Island (shades of the Joshua Hill regime).
Instructions were subsequently given by Captain Vaughan Lewis of
H.M.S. Cambrian in 1909 regarding the appointment of
a constable or some person independent of the case to
prosecute in court and prohibiting the Chief Magistrate himself
from prosecuting cases, as well as for the regulation and conduct
of the island prison, formal provisions for which had been made
for the first time by instructions given by Captain E. E. S. Gaunt
of H.M.S. Cambrian on the 21st of July, 1906.
These laws were further amended by instructions given in 1911 by
Captain G. R. Gaunt of H.M.S. Challenger and in 1913
by Mr. H. A. Richard the then British Consul and Deputy Commissioner
for the Western Pacific at Tahiti. They were also supplemented by
regulations made by the Internal Committee and, until 1911 by regulations
of the External Committee, which body was abolished in that years
as having insufficient work to justify its continued existence and
because of conflicts which had arisen between it and the Internal
Committee as to the exercise of their respective functions. The
two sets of regulations were then amalgamated under the Internal
Committee which consequently expanded its functions to include those
of the former External Committee(48).
Like the 1893 Constitution, the 1904 Constitution got off to a
good start and continued to operate quite well for several years
until the situation again deteriorated. However, with the guidance
and assistance in the early years of Mr. Simons and his successor,
and of the visiting naval officers referred to, eventually settled
down reasonably well with the result that subsequent to the abolition
of the External Committee in 1911 it remained in force with relatively
little amendment until 1940 when it was substantially revised and
the laws replaced within substantially the same system of government
which continued in operation until its partial replacement in 1964
by the Local Government Ordinances, 1964. The balance was replaced
in 1966 by the Justice Ordinance, 1966(49).
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(41) Maude I, pp. 90-92 for a general discussion on McCoys leadership.
(42) Simons, pp. 1-2.
(43) Simons, p. 5.
(44) Simons, pp. 6-7.
(45) Simons, p. 2.
(46) See Maude I, pp. 93-4 for a brief discussion of the 1904 Constitution and Laws, and Shapiro pp. 302-18 for a copy of the Laws, Regulations and Instructions reproduced from The Pitcairn Island Civil Recorder referred to by Maude and Shapiro as the Book of Records of Pitcairn Island. With the abolition of the External Committee in 1911, the post of Chairman of the External Committee also disappeared.
(47) Inserted between regulations 7 and 8 of the Internal Committee Regulations in the Pitcairn Island Civil Recorder.
(48) See Shapiro pp. 300-17 for details of these amendments and instructions and Maude I pp. 93-4 for the general position.
(49) Now Chapter 3 of the Revised Edition.
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