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The Supreme Court of Christmas Island was the highest court for the Island of Christmas Island, a territory of Australia until its abolition on 10 May 2002. The court was originally established in 1958 after the British Government transferred sovereignty for the island from Singapore to Australia. The court had jurisdiction to deal with all serious crimes and major civil claims for damages occurring on the Island.

Judges from Australian courts were appointed to be judges of the court. Those judges would travel to the island to hear, consider and determine cases. In 1992 courts in Western Australia were given concurrent authority to deal with cases on the Island, and those courts became the main venue in which litigation was conducted. Since the court’s abolition, its functions have been replaced by the Supreme Court of Western Australia which now have sole jurisdiction on the Island.

Contents

First courts on the Island

Europeans first discovered the island of Christmas Island on Christmas Day, 25 December 1643. Captain William Mynors gave the island its name because of the day it was found. The British Crown annexed the uninhabited island on 6 June 1888 following the discovery of phosphate on the island. Japanese Imperial Forces occupied the island during the Second World War. After the end of the Second World War, a military court was set up in Singapore to prosecute seven people for mutiny during the war. The island then came under the care the Crown colony of the Straits Settlements based in Singapore. In 1957 sovereignty over the island was transferred to the Australian Government following a payment to the Government of Singapore. [1]Up until 1992 Singapore laws continued to apply to the island, although this changed when legislation was passed bringing the laws of the country into line with Australian law. [2][3]

Establishment of the court

The court was established by section 11 of the Christmas Island Act 1958 (Cth). That same law signified the acceptance by Australia of Christmas Island as a territory. The court was in all respects a superior court and had all the same powers that other supreme courts in Australia had. The court was to be constituted according to local ordinances made by the Governor-General of Australia on the advice of the Australian Government. [4][5]

The court was a superior court and a court of record. Judges appointed by the Governor-General constituted it as required. The court was permitted sit anywhere in Australia as the interests of justice required, and was confined to hearing a case on the Island. [6] When hearing criminal cases, the court sat with a jury to determine an accused person’s guilt. [7] If the court sat outside the Island, the court could use jurors from the State or Territory that the court was actually sitting at. [8]

Notable cases

In April 1988 the court tried two defendants concerning the murder of Tan Soo Cher (Tan). Tan had been murdered during the early hours of 12 May 1987 by the infliction of multiple stab wounds to the front and back of his torso and his arms. The defendants were alleged to have approached Tan in the hope of borrowing money. On the defendants’ version of events, Tan refused and brandished a knife. The defendants claimed to have disarmed Tan, stabbed him, and then left with the money found on Tan. The defendants argued self-defence at their trial. [9]

The trial was held in Western Australia rather than Christmas Island and led to the conviction of the defendants. On appeal to the Federal Court of Australia, Justices Jenkinson, Spender and French ordered new trials because the jury was not properly directed as to provocation. The case was unusual in that the defendants were tried on the basis of a murder charge under the Singapore Criminal Code, which continued to apply on Christmas Island, rather than Australian law. Justice French remarked that the case highlighted “the legal twilight”[10] that Australians living on Christmas Island lived in. [11] French said that criminal laws were established under the Singapore Code, unchanged since 1958, and which in turn, had been based on the Indian Penal Code drafted in 1837 and introduced in India in 1862. [12] This all led to the unsatisfactory situation of prosecuting Australians under Singaporean law.

Abolition of the court

Since 1992 courts in Western Australia have undertaken the work of the court under a service delivery arrangement with the Commonwealth Government. This was introduced at the same time as the introduction of Western Australian law to the Island. The Western Australian Magistrates Court, District Court, Supreme Court, Family Court, Children's Court and Coroner's Court all provide services to the Island as required. [13] As a result, the utility for a separate superior court in the territory was no longer necessary. A proclamation issued by the Governor-General under section 14G of the Christmas Island Act that formally abolished the Court on 10 May 2002.

References

  1. ^ Jupp p323
  2. ^ Rumley p74
  3. ^ Section 8A
  4. ^ Cowan p144
  5. ^ UWA p 539
  6. ^ Section 11A
  7. ^ Section 12
  8. ^ Section 12A
  9. ^ Chong v The Queen 40 A Crim R 22
  10. ^ Chong v The Queen 40 A Crim R 22 at 55 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FCA/1989/66.html
  11. ^ Chong v The Queen 40 A Crim R 22 at 55
  12. ^ Chong v The Queen 40 A Crim R 22at 56
  13. ^ Annual Report. Christmas Island

Sources

  • Christmas Island Act 1958 (Cth)
  • “The Australian People” James Jupp, Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 0521807891
  • ”The Constitutional Systems of the Australian States and Territories” Gerard Carney, Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521863058
  • ”Australia’s Arc of Instablility” Dennis Rumley, Vivian Louis Forbes and Christopher Griffin. Springer Publishing. 2006. ISBN 1402038259
  • “Federal Jurisdiction in Australia” 1959 by Zelman Cowen Oxford University Press ISBN 0195500547
  • “Annual Law Review” by Law School, 1959 University of Western Australia
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Australian Criminology. Adam Graycar, Peter N. Grabosky ISBN:0521818451 p73.
  • Chong v The Queen. 40 Australian Criminal Reports (A Crim R) 22 at 55
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