Origin of village justices in PNG

 I am interested in the village justice system in Papua New Guinea and, in particular, in the effect the village justice system has had in moderating payback violence in the Highlands.

On 5 March 1971, the Minister for External Territories, Charles Barnes, agreed to a request by the Administrator for a fresh inquiry into Village Justices in PNG.The Inquiry was to be carried out by Lindsay Curtis, the then Secretary for Law in the Administration and myself. I was then head of the legal area in Territories.

I had joined the Department in August 1970 but came to this particular issue with some background. I had become very interested in the legal problems in the ‘soon to be independent’ Papua New Guinea and in July 1967, on a visit to PNG, had flown to Rabaul to see how the first Local Courts were functioning. Paul Quinlivan, the Stipendiary Magistrate, took me out to see one of these Courts in operation. To understand the background to the Inquiry Curtis and I undertook, it is necessary to recognize that, at this time, opposition to Native Courts or Village Justices in any form whatsoever had become doctrina definita in Australian Government policy, largely because of the strong views held by Paul Hasluck when Minister. But Les Johnson, the Administrator, and others  were becoming increasingly concerned with rising law and order problems. Supported by John Guise, a very prominent Papua New Guinean politician, he asked for the issue of Village Justices to be re-examined.

[The system of Village Justices is to be distinguished from the Local Courts mentioned above.The Local Courts substantially applied the ordinary law and, in that respect, were similar to other Courts. They were established before independence to be presided over by indigenous magistrates. The localisation of these courts was the result of a terrific effort of training at the Administrative staff College and one of the first of those courts was that visited by me at Rabaul in 1967. The proposed Village Justices were  not only indigenous but were to apply native custom by mediatory processes. The proposal to consider establishing a village justice system was, unlike the establishment by Local Courts, relatively controversial.]

Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear John,

    I was very interested to read about your direct involvement in the lead up to independence 1970 -75.

    I was wondering if the report or results of the 1971 Curtis/Greenwell inquiry into village courts is accessable somewhere?

    I was a kiap based in the Chimbu at the time and am presently considering Phd topics across what is now called the law and justice sector of PNG. It looks like there has been academic attention in the village court area since 1974 but I think none from the prism of DDA who’s field officers routinely arbitrated village level disputes, “all part of the job” as it were.


    Philip van der Eyk

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