TUMBY BAY - After surviving two years of probation and becoming a fully-fledged kiap and passing the prescribed courses, I was appointed a magistrate of the Local Court in Papua New Guinea.
As a local court magistrate I could hear both civil and criminal cases and fine or imprison people up to certain limits.
The principle law under which kiaps worked was the Criminal Code, which had been adopted from Queensland.
In our training great emphasis was placed on the correct interpretation of legislation. We had to get this right because all the cases we heard were scrutinised in Port Moresby and our rulings could be overturned.
When presented with difficult cases, it was sometimes hard to interpret the law and we had to decide what was the intent of the relevant section before we applied it to a particular situation.
To do this we might have to deal with precedent and be aware how courts in the past had interpreted the law. This could be difficult out in the bush where we didn’t have access to case law. No internet back then.
When I left Papua New Guinea I ended up in jobs that were also reliant upon specific legislation and, at various times, actually had a hand in drafting some of it.
This was a lot easier than administering kiap law because we had recourse to the Crown Solicitor’s opinion about interpretation.
All up it was good experience and I’ve maintained an interest in the law ever since. One of the things I learned to do was to be wary of taking at face value what people tell me. I guess it really boils down to being wary and not trusting anyone.
Quite a few of the court cases we hear about in Papua New Guinea have exercised my mind in this way, notably the current one involving Dr Albert Schram, and I try to understand the technicalities of the laws being applied.
This has led me to consult the current Papua New Guinea Criminal Code Act on several occasions.
In doing this I’ve often wondered whether the average Papua New Guinean is aware of the code and all it contains and, if not, whether an appreciation is worth teaching in schools.
In essence, the code is a very long list of all the bad behaviour people are capable of getting up to and the punishments that can be meted out by the courts if these people are caught.
This goes a long way beyond ‘common sense’, and here and there it can overreach, such as with sexual activity between consenting adults. But apart from that it’s a good guide to how to live an honest life.
Here’s an example to demonstrate what I mean:
MEMBER OF THE PARLIAMENT RECEIVING BRIBES.
(1) A member of the Parliament who asks, receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain, any property or benefit for himself or any other person on any understanding that his vote, opinion, judgement, or action in the Parliament, or any Committee of the Parliament will–
(a) be influenced by it; or
(b) be given in any particular manner or in favour of any particular side of any question or matter,
is guilty of a crime.
Penalty: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
This comes out of a very long section about bribery that covers both the people being bribed and those doing the bribing. Specific references to specialised forms of bribery also occur in the rest of the Act.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Any politician soliciting or accepting a bribe is breaking the law and they should know that. It appears that in practice some of them don’t. Or that they don’t care.
I know it’s asking a bit much, but if people in Papua New Guinea took the trouble to familiarise themselves with the code and the punishments involved they might actually behave a bit better.
Perhaps if the police also enforced the Act a bit more conscientiously a similar effect might be realised.
Law and its application is, after all, pivotal to democracy. Without proper adherence to the law democracy is in jeopardy.
I wonder what this says about the current state of democracy in Papua New Guinea.