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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 Commissioner’s 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 Island’s 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 Island‘s 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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