Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i


Crown Law office working with Australia to update criminal laws

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 13, 2012) –Crown Law, in conjunction with the Australian Attorney-General’s Department, is undertaking a major, comprehensive review of the Cook Islands Crimes Act 1969 – which outlines crimes against persons, property and the public order.

In 2010 the Australian government offered to provide the Cook Islands government with technical assistance in its review of the Cook Islands Crimes Act. It also offered to do the legislative drafting.

Currently the Crimes Act does not address modern issues like computer usage and transnational and organized crime, and criminalizes such acts as homosexuality and abortion. Prompting the review is Crown Law’s desire to modernize the act.

Last month Crown Law held consultations with government ministries and non-government organizations to canvass their views on the current act and their vision for an updated version.

[PIR editor’s note: According to their website, Crown Law was established by the Cook Islands Parliament and primarily advises the government "on legal matters referred to it... [which] covers legal advice and representation services to the government affecting the executive government, particularly in the areas of constitutional, criminal, civil, public and administrative law. The legal services provided include matters covering prosecution and defense of government’s affairs in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions. The CLO also oversees the operations of the Financial Intelligence Unit."]

Acting solicitor-general Catherine Evans says there was a ‘good turnout’, and notes that representation from non-government organizations was particularly strong.

She says most of those present made informed comments, which a representative of the Australian Attorney-General’s Department has noted and will work into a draft ‘issues booklet.’

The draft bill was meant to be completed by June, but considering the volume of feedback provided during consultations last month is likely to take until the end of the year.

When the draft bill has been finalized, Crown Law will advertise for consultations with the wider community.

The review recommends that the Crimes Act address the following areas – cybercrime, domestic violence, identity crime and safeguards on surveillance technologies.

The review considers the increasing prevalence of computer and internet-based technologies in the Cook Islands, and addresses the issue of whether such acts as dishonestly accessing a computer, illegally intercepting data and damaging or interfering with a computer system should be labeled offences.

Crown Law also envisions including provisions in the Crimes Act which make domestic violence a specific offence.

The review further considers making identity crimes – such as buying and selling identification information, possessing false identification documents and dishonestly obtaining or dealing in personal financial information – specific offences.

Considering that modern surveillance technologies can undermine a person’s right to privacy, the review sets out to determine whether the Cook Islands should legally regulate their use.

The review focuses on other provisions of the Crimes Act which are outdated or old-fashioned, including those pertaining to domestic discipline, child sex offences, homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, stalking, abortion and provocation.

For example, research is starting to reveal that physically punishing children has a considerable impact on their mental well-being and might even contribute to the legitimization of using violence to solve problems. Consultations are taking that research into account.

In terms of child sex offences, the current Crimes Act does recognize the need to protect children from any sexual acts, regardless of consent. However, current offences are gender- and age-specific and do not criminalize such acts as grooming, child pornography, child prostitution and procuring such conduct. All are coming under review.

Interestingly, the current Crimes Act criminalizes homosexual activity and sodomy. Under international law, similar legislation is being considered a violation of a person’s right to privacy. That provision is being re-evaluated.

Under the current Crimes Act, prostitution (and keeping a brothel, procuring sexual intercourse and living on the earnings of prostitution) is an offence.

However, many countries have repealed similar provisions in hopes of protecting women from exploitation. The review will consider the merits of that view.

Similarly, the Crimes Act criminalizes pornography, and the review will consider whether Cook Islands law should move toward decriminalizing pornography (albeit with appropriate safeguards).

The current Crimes Act does not criminalize stalking but criminalizes abortion. Both provisions are coming under review.

The Crimes Act also provides for a partial defense of provocation in instances of murder, which means that a charge of murder can be reduced to manslaughter where a person’s action or inaction is provoked so that the person no longer exercises self-control. The premise is being reviewed.

Other changes are also being proposed.

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