CONFERENCE REPORT - 23RD PACIFIC ISLANDS LAW OFFICERS
Nuku’alofa, Tonga, 27th-29th September 2004
PROFESSOR BOB HUGHES
Head, School of Law, USP
The annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Law Officers Meeting was held in
the Kingdom of Tonga from 27th-29th September 2004. This was the twenty-third
meeting of PILOM. The meeting brings together senior government law officers
from the Pacific countries; most often Attorneys-General, Solicitors-General and
senior Crown Counsel.
The purpose of the meeting is to provide a forum for the sharing of information regarding major legal issues and developments in the respective countries of particular relevance to the roles of government law officers. The format is such that reports on legal developments are usually provided by each country by way of a country report. This is interspersed with presentations by invited speakers and regular reports from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Forum Secretariat, The South Pacific Police Commissioners’ Conference and the School of Law at the University of the South Pacific.
The countries represented traditionally are all of the USP countries, along with Papua New Guinea, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Australia and New Zealand. For the present conference Nauru, Palau and the Cook Islands were unable to attend. The location of the conference shifts from one country to the other in no particular order, the next location usually being determined by offers to host presented at any particular meeting. The hosting country provides the conference secretariat and usually the chairperson for the meeting. The conference was last held in Tonga in 1997.
The holding of the conference in Tonga this year was an important event given the current legal and political environment in that country. The ever present theme at PILOM in recent times has been the upholding of the rule of law and the strengthening and reinforcement of the legal institutions in the region. Tonga, at this time, is undergoing a degree of political crisis which directly impacts on the relationship between the political rulers and the roles of key legal institutions and legal actors in the country. The outcome of the current events may well have a determining effect on the rule of law in that country and its role in prescribing and limiting the power of political rulers. Thus the presence of PILOM was, if nothing else, a significant symbolic occasion.
Country reports presented to the meeting covered a range of materials from new legislation introduced in areas such as constitutional amendment, anti-terrorism, proceeds of crime, mutual assistance and security measures to reports of major cases recently decided in the courts of the respective countries. Many of the reports raised issue of common concern such as in the area of staff training, the need for legislative drafting assistance and the use of the provisions of model legislation. Many reports also indicated ongoing problems in relation to political interference and the approaches taken to cases of contempt and corruption. In some instances it was evidence that law officers were under pressure, through lack of resources, to deal with heavy work demands. Absence of senior suitably experienced and skilled staff was also a factor.
It was generally agreed that PILOM continues to provide a very useful forum for the exchange of information and provision of mutual assistance to law officers of the region. From a USP, and indeed a regional perspective it was gratifying to note the increasing number of USP law graduates participating in the meeting. At the current meeting these were Iakoba Italeli, Attorney-General of Tuvalu, Marstella Jack Assistance Attorney-General of Federated States of Micronesia, Frederick Sam, State Law Office of Vanuatu and Birimaka Tekanene, State Advocate of Kiribati. Others present at the meeting as part of the Tongan secretariat included Sarah Raasch and Luisa Fukofuka from the Crown Law Office of Tonga.
Aside from the country reports presentations were given to PILOM by invited speakers and observers, Ms. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, the Director of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, provided sessions on the Commonwealth Project on Counter Terrorism and on the International Criminal Court. She gave a further presentation on the work of the Commonwelath Secretariat. Justice McIlrea of the Supreme Court of Tonga gave a paper on the role of restorative justice within criminal justice systems.
Mr. Nicholas Cowdery, the Director of Public Prosecutions of New South Wales and Chairman of the World Association of Prosecutors, gave a presentation on the roles of prosecutors and the many challenges facing them in the upholding of the rule of law, particularly in the face of political and media criticism. Mr. Terence Arnold, the Solicitor-General of New Zealand lectured on the role of law officers and the contribution of their officers to the maintenance of the rule of law. Both papers raised issues concerning the interaction between the rule of law and legal institutions, on the one hand, and popular and political opinion, on the other.
A report was provided to the meeting by Dr. Transform Aqorau, Legal Advisor, Political and Legal Affairs Division of the Forum Secretariat outlining changes in the structure and context of operation of the Forum. His report also gave indications of the possible signficance which the adoption of the Forum’s Pacific Plan might have for the future operation of PILOM. For example, one implication of the Plan could be for a more structured and intensified role for PILOM in the implementation and administration of aspects of the Plan, particularly in the implementation of cooperative schemes of legal regulation.
Ms. Lautoa Faleatau, Assistant Police Commander of Tonga provided the report of the South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference. She spoke of moves within the conference to foster improved communication and a greater degree of cooperation between regional police services and to promote capacity building. Also addressed were transnational crime issues, terrorism and drug trafficking measures and the establishment of a womens’ advisory network.
Professor Bob Hughes provided a report on the further development of the USP law programme and the Institute of Justice and Applied Legal Studies. He also raised issues relating to the comprehensive review of the Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute and the possible future roles it might take on in serving the legal communities of the region, both by way of expansion of its law reporting functions and other training and information provision activities.
At the conclusion of the meeting there was a discussion of some important areas affecting the future of PILOM. These were as follows:
1. The implications of the Pacific Plan for the future of PILOM. It was agreed that members will need to give further consideration to the implications of the Plan and a possible expanded role which PILOM might have under it.
2. PILOM Secretariat. The discussion of a permanent PILOM secretariat had been discussed at previous meetings. It was agreed that the secretariat functions should remain local to the hosting country for the time being rather than being permanently established.
3. An expanded role for the chairperson of PILOM. This issue was raised as a possible means for implementing and expanded role for PILOM. For the time being, it was decided not to move in this direction.
4. Possible staff exchanges between member countries. It was agreed in principle that this was an idea worthy of further consideration. Staff experience in other jurisdictions would be of considerable advantage to them. Questions were raised as to admission requirements but these were not thought to be insurmountable.
5. 2005 and 2006 meetings. It was agreed that the 2005 meeting of PILOM should take place in Vanuatu and the 2006 meeting in Kiribati.
6. PIOOM Website. It was agreed that a PILOM website will be established and maintained by Samoa. The content of the website was discussed and the need to set up links to various relevant sites. It was felt that the establishment of such a site might provide a focal point for defining the role of PILOM and provide an information point serving the needs of members.
In conclusion, the meeting of PILOM again demonstrated its value as a forum for the exchange of information between the law officers of the various member countries regarding legal developments in the region and the roles and functions of major legal institutions. Whether PILOM is ever to move beyond this information-sharing function remains somewhat unclear. It has been an issue which has been raised at several past meetings but each time has not moved much beyond discussion. The so-called Forum Pacific Plan, however, might give the discussion much needed impetus.
The Plan is intended to be the primary instrument for the implementation of
the Forum leaders’ Pacific Vision. Its aim is to deliver real benefits to
Pacific people in terms of enhanced economic growth, sustainable development,
good governance and security. One expectation seems to be that PILOM might be
actively engaged in some way in the carrying of those general aims into effect,
at least in the legal context appropriate to it. Just how it might do so and
whether it will do so remains to be seen.