PIMLA to provide guidance on legal status for PILON
Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The 25th Pacific Islands Law Officer’s Meeting (PILOM) resolved to reform and be actively involved in all legal matters affecting each PIC within the region. PILOM was an annual forum where government lawyers were able to exchange ideas and country reports in a frank manner on issues affecting their respective offices but there was never any follow up on the issues discussed. As a result, in 2005 a review committee made recommendations on how to set up a Secretariat most likely to be based at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). A steering committee was created in 2007 to implement the review committee’s recommendations plus other resolutions from the 25th PILOM meeting in Kiribati. One of the issues discussed was procedures dealing with observers as there was no record of how the forum processed or dealt with observers. Traditionally, in the absence of any set rules, the host country determined which observers were to be invited.

PILOM also had no legal status as it was more of an informal meeting of government lawyers. This was highlighted when the Pacific International Maritime Law Association (PIMLA) submitted its application to be granted observer status. None of the old or existing observers such as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), PIFS, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) or the Commonwealth Secretariat had any idea on how and when they had became observers at PILOM. This absence of records resulted in PIMLA’s application being declined without reason in 2005 but further discussions in Kiribati resulted in deferring a response to the application until the steering committee had finalised rules and procedures and had created a legal entity. The 25th meeting was the last gathering under the name PILOM as members have agreed that part of reforming PILOM was to change the name to PILON (Pacific Islands Law Officers Network). 

A power point presentation on the work and services provided by SPC’s Regional Maritime Programme (RMP) within the region was delivered and this was followed by a presentation on PIMLA, especially on the existing application for “observer status”. There was unanimous support from members in attendance as well as from those who had sent in their written vote of support in absentia. However, the decision on the application was deferred to the next meeting scheduled for September/October 2007 when the newly appointed steering committee would have completed all the necessary mechanisms for the operation of the new Secretariat. There was a concern raised about the importance of having a proper mandate or charter before moving ahead and dealing with PILON affairs. The Office of the Attorney General in Australia has offered to fund and facilitate the work of the steering committee during the interim. The existing observers were therefore technically in the same boat as PIMLA. During the course of discussions the example of PIMLA was referred to as an alternative option for consideration by the steering committee as an appropriate legal entity for the reformed PILON.

Presentations by other observers especially PIFS and the Pacific Legal Information Institute (PacLII) were of some interest in terms of possible collaboration. The PIFS legal drafting unit under its political and security programme covers legislation that implements the Honiara Declaration which includes legislation on extradition. From a maritime perspective and in accordance with PIMLA’s scope this is particularly important in the context of the SUA Convention and subsequent Protocols that deal with terrorism against ships. PacLII on the other hand has introduced its Pacific Islands Treaty Series (PITS) Database. It publishes treaties in their full texts, and if possible, their corresponding status reports. These status reports list the domestic legislation that gives effect to the treaties at national level. The domestic legislation is an extended feature unique to the PITS database. Currently, PITS does not cover IMO/ILO conventions and perhaps that is something that both SPC/RMP and PIMLA can collaborate on with PacLII subject to mutual terms and conditions.

Country reports delivered at PILOM highlighted the lack of resources or expertise in some of the offices and the ever present trend of lawyers moving to the private sector or abroad. The Tongan Crown Law Office in particular has been devastated by the riots in 2006 as practically the entire office building was burnt down. Considerable time was spent on discussing complex issues related to the extradition of criminals in the region as highlighted by the Julian Moti and Peter Foster cases. FSM gave an account of a maritime case where the master was charged in his personal capacity for not rendering assistance to lost fishermen as its current law does not provide a cause of action against the ship itself. FSM also proposed a regional treaty on this issue be considered as this is currently mostly done on a bilateral basis. In cases of terrorism at sea, State parties to the SUA Convention and subsequent Protocols of 2005 can extradite offenders without the need for bilateral arrangements as such crimes are of a serious and universal nature against people and property. These international instruments complement the ISPS Code that was introduced under the SOLAS Convention and which came into effect in July 2004.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 May 2007 )
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