History of Government and Laws, Part 12
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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Administrative Control from the South Pacific Office in Suva
In light of the conditions found existing on the island in 1958,
the proposed revision of the laws, whilst considered desirable,
was not really a matter of urgency and with the exception of the
enactment of one Ordinance was postponed pending the implementation
of other administrative changes and of plans for the economic development
of the island. That ordinance(76) made provision for the termination
of the jurisdiction of the High Commissioners Court on the
Island, transferring that jurisdiction to the Supreme Court of Fiji;
declared that the law in force in England was to be in force in
the islands, except as modified by local legislation; and made provision
for the appointment of a magistrate from Fiji to hold a court, to
be known as the Subrodinate Court, on the island to hear and determine
cases falling outside the jurisdiction of the Island Council but
not sufficiently serious as to warrant a judicial visit there by
a judge of the Supreme Court.
Other changes effected were that the Pitcairn Office in Suva,
which formerly dealt with administrative matters relating to the
islands, was, at the end of 1958, amalgamated into the newly formed
South Pacific Office under the administrative direction and control
of a Commissioner working directly to the Governor on the one hand,
and to the Island Council on the other.
Proposals for the development of the Island were also put in hand
resulting in visits to the island by an agricultural officer who
conducted an agricultural survey, and a civil engineer who carried
out a survey with a view to the establishment of roads on the Island
and improving the landing facilities at Bounty Bay. In addition,
the Island radio station was reconstructed and re-equipped and,
as a result of the engineering survey, the landing at Bounty Bay
reconstructed. A Pitcairn Islander also underwent a course in agriculture
in Fiji and returned to the Island as its first agricultural officer(77).
A Trade Union Ordinance was also enacted in order to comply with
the requirements of an International Labour Convention(78).
Another factor which was taken into account in postponing the
implementation of the 1958 proposals for revision of the laws, and
which rendered the development programme more pressing, was the
decision by the New Zealand Shipping Company to cease the regular
calls by its passenger vessels to the Island, re-routing them through
Papeete in Tahiti. This had the effect of reducing the volume of
the Islands trade and resulted in an increase in the migration
of islanders to New Zealand to such an extent that out of a population
of 152 at the beginning of 1958 only 90 remained by the end of 1963(79).
As most of the migrants were the younger and more able bodies members
of the community, this made the development of facilities on the
Island more urgent. Also the decline in trading possibilities made
the development of a more stable cash economy more pressing.
In view of these factors and the fact that the Islands administration
appeared to be working on reasonably sound line as was indicated
by the reports received, and by the small volume of cases coming
before the Court, a total of 18 cases in which the persons were
convicted, between 1956 and 1962, no further action was taken in
relation to the proposed revision of the laws until 1963 when as
the result of visits to the island by the Executive Officer of the
South Pacific Office, Ratu David Toganivalu, and later in the same
year by the Commissioner, Mr. Cowell, when, during the visit of
the latter, the 1958 proposals were again discussed in the light
of the, by then, changed situation, agreement was reached by the
Island Council to the enactment of a new Local Government Ordinance(80).
This replaced Parts II and III of the 1940 Regulations, making new
provisions for the internal government of the island by an enlarged
Island Council comprising four elected officials known as Island
Officers and entitled respectively, the Island Magistrate
(in place of the former Chief Magistrate) the chairman of the Internal
Committee (as before) and two councillors (in place of the two former
assessors). In addition the new Council has six other members, namely
the Island Secretary as an ex-officio member appointed by the Governor;
three nominated members, of whom one is appointed annually by the
Governor and the other two appointed annually by the elected members
of Island Officers in January of each year, all of whom are full-voting
members of the Council; and two non-voting members, known as advisory
members, one of whom is appointed annually by the Governor
and the other is appointed by the Council in January of each year.
The principal function of the new Council is to make regulations,
subject to the approval of the Governor, for the good administration
of the islands, the maintenance, peace, and order and public safety
and the social and economic betterment of the islanders, and in
particular in relation to such matters as public health, town and
country planning, the use and control of public property, public
work and other public activities and a wide range of other matters
considered likely to arise in the course of the internal administration
of the islands.
Consequent upon the enactment of that Ordinance and a further
visit paid to the Island by Mr. Cowell, the then Commissioner, South
Pacific Office in 1965, the newly formed Island Council with the
advice and assistance of Mr. Cowell and his successors in office
and of myself as Legal Adviser, has made a large number of regulations
relating to almost every aspect of life on Pitcairn Island, including
Traffic Regulations for the control of the tractors, bicycles and
two motor cycles now on the island, as well as the anticipated advent
of motor cars, which the newly roads are now capable of carrying.
Official visits to the Island were also increased to an average
of one a year thereby enabling a much closer liaison with the administrative
headquarters in Suva than was previously possible.
Concurrently with the making by the Council of the Local Government
Regulations, 1966(81), under the authority of the Local Government Ordinance,
1964, the Governor, also with the concurrence of the Island Council,
enacted a comprehensive Ordinance relating to the Administration
of Justice, the Jurisdiction of the Island Court and the preservation
of order in the islands(82). This Ordinance revoked and replaces the
remainder of the 1940 Regulations, re-constituting the former Island
Court under the presidency of the Island Magistrate sitting alone
in minor civil and criminal cases where, in criminal cases the maximum
penalty does not exceed $10, and in all criminal cases when the
accused person admits the charges against him. In all other cases
the Island Magistrate is to sit with assessors for the purpose of
determining the matters in dispute, but he along is to decide the
penalty in all criminal cases in which the accused is found guilty.
The jurisdiction of the Court was also substantially enlarged. In
criminal cases the maximum penalty was increased from a fine of
$20 or three months imprisonment or both to a fine of $50
or 100 days, imprisonment or both and in civil cases the jurisdiction
was increased from a maximum amount in dispute of $20 to a maximum
amount in dispute of $400. The Court was also given wide powers
to deal with such matters as the appointment of guardian of infants,
the custody and maintenance of children, the maintenance of deserted
wives, the appointment of guardians of the person and estate of
persons of unsound mind and to make orders for their detention,
care, custody and maintenance of sick and aged persons. In addition
the Governor is empowered to extend the jurisdiction of the Court
in suitable cases, and the powers and duties of the Island Magistrate
and the Clerk of the Court (who is to be the Island Secretary) are
spelled out in detail for the first time.
Unlike the former system under which two elected assessors sat
with Island Magistrate as members of the Court, the assessors who
sit with the Island Magistrate when required are drawn from a panel
of six persons whose names are drawn by lot from the persons qualified
to vote at the annual elections, excluding only the Island Magistrate
and certain essential officials, ministers of religion and the parties
of the case in question and their witnesses. From the six persons
composing this panel, two assessors are selected by a system similar
to that used in selecting a jury in other jurisdictions, namely
by calling out the names of the panel members in alphabetical order
with a right of objection on the part of either party to the case
and, in the case of objection being lodged against all members of
the panel, a right of selection by the Island Magistrate, having
regard to the nature of the objection lodged, thereby ensuring that
the persons finally selected are those most acceptable to both parties.
The procedures to be followed in both civil and criminal cases
are now spelled out in step by step detail to ensure against the
recurrence of the previous misunderstandings that have arisen in
relation to the conduct of court proceedings. Provision is also
made for the first time enabling the Island Court to conduct formal
inquiries into cases falling outside the jurisdiction of the Island
court for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is sufficient
evidence against an accused person to put him on his trial before
the Subordinate Court or the Supreme Court.
Other changes contained in the Justice Ordinance, were the abolition
of the former post of Inspector of Police and the substitution of
an unspecified number of the posts of police officers to be appointed
by the Governor. The provisions relating to offences are substantially
reduced being confined to those relating to matters of a public
nature such as contempt of court, perjury, escapes from prison,
assaults, disorderly and indecent behaviour in public, stealing
and receiving, etc. The old offences of adultery and for unmarried
couples to live together are retained, however, at the express wish
of the islanders, as are the restrictions on the consumption of
alcoholic liquor and tobacco. All other offences formerly contained
in the 1940 Regulations were transferred to the Local Government
Regulations, as being appropriate to those Regulations.
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(76) The Judicature Ordinance, 1961 (No. 1 of 1961). (Repealed and replaced by the Judicature Ordinance, 1970 (No. 20 (1970), now Chapter 206 of the Revised Edition).
(77) He has since resigned his post and gone to live in New Zealand.
(78) The Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Ordinance, 1959 (No. 1 of 1959), now the Trade Disputes Ordinance, Chapter 14 of the Revised Edition.
(79) Cowell, p. 47 for the population figures between 1957 and 1962.
(80) The Local Government Ordinance, Chapter 4, of the Revised Edition.
(81) Now the Local Government Regulations made under Section 7 of the Local Government Ordinance, Chapter 4, of the Revised Edition.
(82) Now the Justice Ordinance, Chapter 3 of the Revised Edition.
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