Cook Islands family law caught in "time warp" | Pacific Beat

Cook Islands family law caught in "time warp"

Cook Islands family law caught in "time warp"

Updated 13 May 2013, 10:52 AEST

New Zealand judge Dame Judith Potter has just completed her first two week sitting in the Cook Islands high court and says the country's family law is in a time warp.

The judge has also lifted name suppressions in a string of cases including one where a high profile couple have been accused of rape, and another where the country's clerk of parliament has been charged with injuring his wife with intent.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Helen Greig, deputy editor, Cook Island News


GREIG: Yes so she's saying, we definitely need to update our laws here, she's saying that during her time on the bench here, she's gone back to her experience as a young lawyer, rather than her 15 years as a judge. So she's saying we need to do this, the people that work in the justice system and lawyers deserve better legislation as do members of the public.
COUTTS: And she's also lifted some name suppressions and a string of cases, including one, where a high profile couple have been accused of rape?
GREIG: That's right. She's lifted a whole lot of name suppressions that have been given out by Justices of the Peace here and there is some unrest in the community here about whether or not JPs should or shouldn't be giving name suppression in cases. The high profile cases of a business couple accused of raping a woman here who was here with her partner last year. Another case where name suppression was listed as on a case against the country's Clerk of Parliament, whose been charged with injuring his wife with intent, which is quite a serious charge here. Another case was also the local Cook Islands TV sports presenter was named as in a case where he's been accused of importing cannabis.
COUTTS: Now, what response has there been locally to Dame Judith's call for the country's Family Law to come up to speed and get into the modern day?
GREIG: Well, I think she's really echoing the feeling here of the public. Generally our laws have always been adopted from New Zealand anyway, but there are some that just have not been updated since the 60s or 70s, so we're quite a bit behind.
COUTTS: All right. The next story now Helen. Unexpected death of a visiting local woman on May 4th. has left her family understandably in shock?
GREIG: Yes, and they're now asking for answer. They want to know why she died and the Ministry of Health is promising to let them know and let the public know once they've received clearance from the family. She died very suddenly, within a matter of days from what appeared to be a case of pneumonia and initially, she was sent home with panadol and possibly what was an antibiotic before having to return the next day unable to breathe.
COUTTS: And the family now wanting to know why she died so suddenly. Is there an inquest?
GREIG: Ah, not at present. We're still waiting to see what the Ministry of Health is going to do, but her death follows recent criticism of the country's health services by the Opposition leader, Wilkie Rasmussen. 
There have been quite a lot of criticism of the health system here, because it tends to be under funded, there's not a lot of resources that they've got to work with and they're doctors have also been criticised. So we'll have to wait and see what happens with this one case.
COUTTS: And emergency services in particular for visitors especially highlighted by this case. So the emergency services not so good either?
GREIG: That's right. It's just an all around sort of there's been some criticism and this was a local woman as well, who was here I think for her daughter's wedding last month and she's left behind 10 children.
COUTTS: OK. And the Cook Islands Tourism Board has appointed two new board members following the resignation of one of the longstanding members. What's the story there?
GREIG: Well, it seemed to be a typical reappointment of board members with the addition of one new member as well. Since then, members of the public have pointed out that one of the new members is in fact the mother-in-law of the Corporation's Chief Executive and so they're wondering how this can be the case. There are also of the seven member board, there's also two members that are from the same company and so that's also being criticised.
The Corporation has yet to respond to those allegations, but that board is responsible for setting the direction for government's tourism efforts each year.
COUTTS: And, the country's revenue comes mainly from tourism, so it's fairly significant?
GREIG: That's right. So tourism contributes 80% of the Gross Domestic Product here, so it's a very important sector for us. And so the last thing that the Tourism Corporation needs is to be accused of nepotism.
COUTTS: All right. Well, what's the next step then in relation to these board members?
GREIG: I think the Corporation will probably have to answer to that criticism this week and just let us know how they went about appointing the members. 
I take it that the Tourism Minister, Tanner Bishop, would have had a role in the appointment of the new board members and I don't know how else the selection process takes place.

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