History of Government and Laws, Part 11
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 Pitcairn Order in Council, 1952
In 1952 a change was to take place as the result of the enactment
in London of the Pitcairn Order in Council 1952, by which responsibility
for the administration of the islands was transferred from the Western
Pacific High Commission to the Governor of Fiji, who also became
the Governor of the islands of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno.
This was necessitated by the transfer of the headquarters of the
Western Pacific High Commission from Suva to Honiara and meant no
change in actuality but merely continued the previous system of
administrative control from Suva.
For the first time, Ordinances were enacted in 1952 having application
solely to the islands which now acquired the legal status of a separate
Crown Colony as distinct from merely British possessions falling
within the gambit of the Western Pacific High Commission territories.
The first Ordinance enacted made provision for the interpretation
of Pitcairn Ordinances, and the second provided for the Pitcairn
Island Government Regulations, as amended in 1949 and 1950, to have
the force of law(65). Two other Ordinances were enacted in that year
making comprehensive provision for the registration of births and
deaths on the Island and for the solemnization and registration
of marriages. In the following year substantial amendments were
made to the 1940 Regulations, the effect of which were to provide
for the Island Magistrate to hold office for a period of three years
instead of one year as before, and for the other elected officers,
namely the two assessors and the Chairman of the Internal Committee
to continue to hold office for a period of one year only, thereby
ensuring continuity in the principal government office on the island
but requiring the holders of subordinate posts to come up for election
annually. Detailed provision was also made for the filling of the
casual vacancies and for the appointment of acting officials in
the event of the illness or absence of any of the elected officials.
The ages of compulsory school attendance were also amended from
between six and sixteen years to between five and fifteen years(66).
The next official administrative visit to the Island was made
in October, 1953 by Mr. J. B. Claydon, then of the Pitcairn Office
in Suva, who resided on the Island from the 31st October, 1953,
until the 26th of December in the same year.
Claydon on the whole found that the islander themselves had no
real complaints about their system of government and were quite
contented with their lot. The inspector of police, appointed in
the result of the Dobbs recommendations, had certainly improved
police procedures although adding to his personal unpopularity with
his fellows in doing so. The administration of the laws of the Island
Council, however, still left a lot to be desired largely due to
the lack of official guidance and advice in the carrying out of
their day to day tasks and in the conduct of meetings(67). Accordingly,
to overcome this situation, Claydon recommended the appointment
by the Governor of the education officer, a New Zealand school teacher
on secondment to the Island, as an advisory member of the Island
Council and as auditor, to carry out regular audits of the accounts
of the Chief Magistrate, the Island Secretary and the Postmaster(68).
He also recommended the enactment of Ordinances, making provision
for the regulation of the landing on and residence in the islands
of outsiders, to ensure formal control over them by the Governor;
for the adoption of infants, to take account of and afford legality
to the many informal adoptions on Pitcairn Island; and for the formal
control of the postal service(69).
Ordinances making provision for these matters were duly enacted
shortly after Claydons return to Fiji(70).
The implementation of the Claydon recommendations for the appointment
of an Education Officer as Advisory Member of the Island Council
and as Auditor(71) effected a slight improvement in the administration
of the Island, with the result that, on my visiting the Island in
February and March of 1958, I found the Council working reasonably
satisfactorily and could find nothing seriously wrong with the manner
in which they carried out their functions apart from a fundamental
disinclination by the Island members to shoulder their own responsibilities
and a tendency on the part of some education officers to take advantage
of their position to pursue their own ideas(72). Chosen rather for their
capabilities in the schoolroom than in matters administrative, and
being accustomed to a position of ascendency over their pulpits,
they were not always the most suitable persons to be entrusted with
the somewhat difficult and delicate role of an administrative advisor.
It soon became apparent that more care was required in the selection
of candidates for this role and that they should be given a period
of training and instruction before assuming duty, or that, as had
been recommended by former official observers, a trained administrative
officer should be stationed on the Island for a period of approximately
two years at least.
The Council was, however, in fact working as well as could be
expected in the circumstances then prevailing. As regards the Island
Court, the procedures still left a lot to be desired, due, I am
satisfied, principally to a lack of knowledge on the part of the
members of the Court as to what was required of them or as to how
the Court should be conducted. Over a period of nearly six weeks
I discussed the various aspects of the island administration with
the island officials and, with the newly appointed education officer
in an attempt to minimise the difficulties which were apparent.
In addition, apart from holding the second Judicial Commissioners
Court on the island (the first was the occasion of the 1897 murder)
when I heard the islands first and only divorce case, I devoted
a considerable amount of time in explaining and demonstrating court
procedures to the members of the Island Court and to the Inspector
of Police. All showed considerable interest in learning the right
way to carry out their functions, and, with the aid of notes for
their guidance which I left with them and simple demonstrations,
I was confident that this aspect of the Islands affairs should
remain reasonably under control until a new code of laws could be
introduced removing the difficulties and misunderstandings on their
part as to the interpretation of the laws, which became apparent
in the course of my discussion with them.
The principal complaint about the Court was that, as its three
members were also members of the Island Council, there was a strong
tendency for court cases to be pre-determined by discussions in
the Council. These and other matters relating to the system of government
and laws of Pitcairn Island were discussed both formally and informally
at public meetings attended by all members of the community as well
as at several meetings of the Island Council and with individual
islanders who sought me out to air their views. In the result, a
number of recommended changes were put to and agreed upon, first
by the Island Council and subsequently by public meetings attended
by all adult members of the community(73).
Consequent upon these recommendations and in the light of the
unanimous agreement of the community, consideration was then given
to a complete revision and codification of the laws of the Colony
with a view to making more comprehensive provision for the hearing
and determination of cases both within and outside the jurisdiction
of the Island Council as well as the enlargement of the Island Council
to provide for a wider degree and representation of interests on
it. It was also proposed to separate the functions of the Council
and the Court by substituting two assessors, chosen from a small
panel on a simplified jury system for the two annually elected assessors
as before, thereby ensuring that the two assessors sitting with
the Magistrate should be the persons most acceptable to the parties
in each particular case before the Court, and reducing to a minimum
the possibilities of bias and the pre-determination of cases outside
The Pitcairn that I visited in 1958 was a comparatively prosperous
and contented community. The economy was based almost entirely on
the sale and barter of island curios and fruits with the passengers
and crews of passing vessels, which in that year totalled 58 or
an average of just over a ship a week. Whilst the thriving orange
trade with New Zealand had virtually ceased as the result of severance
of communication during the 1939-45 war, the new trade which developed
with the increase in shipping in the post-war years enabled a substantial
increase in the incomes of the islanders. >From my observations
I was able to estimate the average family income (on the basis of
a family comprising a married couple and their unmarried children)
at about ten dollars a week in cash, in addition to which they obtained
ships stores and other commodities on a barter basis(74). Most
houses were provided with a supply of electricity either from the
school supply or from one of the other islanders who owned his own
supply plant and nearly all, with some notable exceptions, were
comfortably furnished and well kept(75). The overall impression was
that of a reasonably prosperous, hard working law abiding and contented
little community. They undoubtedly had their minor differences amongst
themselves but these were not really serious and I considered them
as having no real significance.
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(65) The interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance, Chapter I of the Revised Edition and the Pitcairn Island (Local Government) Regulations Ordinance, 1952 (no. 2 of 1952).
(66) The Pitcairn Island Government Regulations (Amendment) Ordinance, 1953 (No. 2 of 1953).
(67) Claydon, para. 50, pp. 15-16.
(68) Claydon, paras, 52-59, pp. 16-19.
(69) Claydon, paras. 61-66, pp. 20-21.
(70) The Landing and Residence Ordinance, Chapter 2 of the Revised Edition; and the Adoption of Infants Ordinance, Chapter 8 of the Revised Edition; the Post Office Ordinance, Chapter 12 of the revised Edition; the Post Office Regulations, 1954 and the Pitcairn Island Government Regulations (Amendment) Ordinance, 1954 (No. 4 of 1954).
(71) Implemented by the Pitcairn Island Government Regulations (Amendment) Ordinance, 1954 (No. 4 of 1954).
(72) McLoughlin paras. 28-30. The principal defect in the system was the tendency on the part of some education officers to depart from their role as advisers and to assume more positive administrative functions.
(73) McLoughlin, paras. 81-89), pp. 50-53 for a detailed account of the discussions and Enclosure V for the recommended amendments.
(74) McLoughlin, para. 10, p. 6.
(75) McLoughlin, para. 8, p. 5.
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