The founding document was officially proclaimed a week ago, with as much pomp and ceremony as its population of 53 could muster. The constitution was put together after consultations with almost everyone on the island. It enshrines basic human rights, and for the first time will see an Attorney General appointed. Paul Allen spoke with Pitcairn Island Governor George Fergusson, who went to Pitcairn to formally proclaim the new constitution.
Presenter: Paul Allen
Speaker: Pitcairn Island Governor, George Fergusson
FERGUSSON: We held a public dinner in the square which means everyone on the island is invited, population is 50 with another 15 or so people on the island at the moment. We probably had about 40 people present, and everyone was sitting ready for their dinner. I read out the proclamation and congratulated the community on the work they'd done to develop the constitution, and signed it, and the mayor then stuck it up on the public notice board behind me. So it was as formal and pretentious as a civil servant can make a bit of legal documentation. But it was a great occasion.
ALLEN: Does the community actually need a constitution, does it need to be that formal?
FERGUSSON: It's a reasonable question, that question comes up about almost anything to do with the community of 50 people. But without being too pompous about it, everybody I think nowadays needs an expression of rights. We are doing similar things in all the other British overseas territories, indeed in the UK itself with the Human Rights Act just over 10 years ago. And we reckoned sadly for a community of 50 people one size doesn't fit all. In the case of Pitcairn I think there's quite a strong sense of rights, and it seems to me wrong that we've got European Convention type rights in pretty well all British administered places, including the UK itself. To miss somewhere out would be very difficult to defend. I was keen to go with this job as governor of Pitcairn four years ago that we should try to extend the European Convention in a way that made sense for Pitcairn.
ALLEN: Can you give me an example of the sorts of things that got suggested, maybe something that wasn't included and something that was?
FERGUSSON: There were some suggestions to have economic and social rights built into the constitution. Without being too nerdy the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights has got a lot of things like a right to education, a right to health, whatever. To put that into a European Convention type constitution is quite tricky because the European Convention is based on things which in the end can be determined by a judge, and to have judges deciding what levels of education should be provided in Pitcairn would be quite tricky. They're not really intended as justiciable rights. What we have done is pick up a couple like education is one example where we do now have an established right of education up to secondary level, and we find we can square that with it being a sort of assertion that something that everyone can reasonably expect, but without being handing over too much power to judges to decide whether people should do A levels or New Zealand levels or that sort of degree of detail.
ALLEN: Well Pitcairn of course got quite a lot of coverage on our show and elsewhere in the media a few years ago for all the wrong reasons. There was some quite serious cases of sexual abuse. Do you feel like the new constitution and the discussion that went around that as part of the healing process and moving on in Pitcairn?
FERGUSSON: I think it is, the discussion of rights in general I think is good for any community and recognition that everyone has rights. People who are accused of offences, children, everyone in the community has their rights respected under this constitution, discussion of how people whatever their position in a community all have rights and that is a good way of binding a community together. These are important in any community but I think it's particularly helpful in Pitcairn, and I take some encouragement by the way the whole community's pulled together on this.