A Defender of Native Criminals by Graham Hardy

A kiap’s role included being defender of natives brought before the Supreme Court of the pre-independence Territory of Papua New Guinea in the then absence of any public defenders.

From the end of the Second World War until about the early 1960s, the Crown Law Department did not have a Public Defender office. I have found a paper, undated, issued from the Crown Law Department for the benefit of all officers of the Department of District Services and Native Affairs (DDSNA) describing the association between the two departments in the administration of law and justice to the native people. The final paragraph of this paper clarifies the role of DDSNA officers as follows:

“……it will be very often necessary for you to appear on behalf of and defend natives charged before the Criminal Court. You may think that perhaps this is unfair, but you are assured that if you are called upon to represent an accused person in Court, every assistance will be given you, both by the Crown Prosecutor and the Court itself and it is well to remember that the Crown Prosecutor does not appear for the sole purpose of obtaining a conviction but to present to the Court such evidence as is available in a particular case”.

My first experience as a defending officer in a murder case was in 1957 at Wabag in the Western Highlands. A defending officer would be selected usually because he had not been involved in the particular police investigation. I became involved as defending officer in the case of ARO of RUPAMANDA, who murdered his two wives on the 10th of April 1957. ARO was sentenced to death at Wabag and was hanged in Lae. I wrote the story in detail about this trial and execution which was published in the June 2002 Una Voce. I will not repeat the details in this account but the details I believe may be found in the PNGAA archives and include the trial documents, letters from the trial judge, the Administrator Sir Donald Cleland and correspondence to and from Canberra. I also have had considerable correspondence with Paul Munro who spent some years in the PNG Crown Law office in later years and whom I had met several times on circuit at Wabag. ARO was the last to be hanged in PNG before Independence. His death was an event which stayed with me forever and convinced me that capital punishment is barbaric.

I was defending officer at murder trials on three occasions in all. The second trial occurred a year or so later than 1957 at Wabag. A man from the Kompiam Patrol Post area in the Sau River valley was accused of murdering his wife. He was seen walking down to the river with his wife, then seen shading his eyes as he looked down river and then walking away from the river alone. He was not seen actually throwing his wife, alive or dead, into the river. However, she was never seen again.

After the police investigation he was committed for trial at Wabag by the Assistant District Officer Bob MacIlwain . The defendant denied killing his wife, but admitted hitting her only. When the Supreme Court trial occurred he still insisted he had not killed his wife but his attitude indicated he would be happy to go to gaol and be safe from retribution. When the witnesses began their evidence each of them had a completely different story from when they had attended the committal hearing. I asked for Bob MacIlwain to take the witness box and confirm the statements in the committal record which he did. The judge then declared there was no trial and that the defendant was free to leave the court. The defendant was quite confused when I explained to him that he was free to go. A number of us were standing outside the court house, including the defendant, when one of the kiaps handed him exhibit “A”, his axe. He stared at it in his hands in confusion then ran around us in a circle before he took off at a run behind the office and out of sight. The Kompiam kiap told me that whenever he saw the man he was always escorted by armed relatives who guarded him from payback by his former wife’s relatives.

The third experience occurred when I happened to be in Mt. Hagen. Two men walked into the District Commissioner’s office carrying a severed leg several days old which they dropped on Ian Skinner’s desk and reported a murder. After the leg was removed and things calmed down it turned out that a man had chopped his victim to pieces and thrown the body into the Nebilyer River. When the Supreme Court arrived, I was appointed defending officer.

The case was first on the list and after the formalities the first witness Sergeant Major Merire was called. Merire was a fine example of the old loyal constabulary. During the war he had received a medal for some brave and dangerous work he had carried out alone behind the Japanese lines, and brought back some trophies to prove it. The Prosecutor asked Merire what he had said to the defendant. His reply was that he had asked the defendant if he had killed the victim, to which the defendant said yes.

I rose to ask if the witness had administered the usual warning before beginning examination. (That is the warning given to suspects that anything they say may be taken down in writing and may be used in evidence).

The Prosecutor enquired further and found that there had been no warning. A “nolle prosequi” was entered and the next case was opened. A cadet patrol officer Bill Benham was asked to take Merire aside and teach him the finer points of examining a suspect so he, Merire, could re-examine the offender. Bill had been a military police man in the British Army in Malaya.

About 11am the case was re- started with Merire as first witness. The result was that Merire again failed to issue the warning and a second “nolle prosequi” was entered. Bill was then given the job of examining the offender correctly. Early in the afternoon he was the first witness when the trial was re-started. My client was found guilty.

Murders and other major crimes were a significant factor in our work in the Highlands, in my case from 1955 to 1963. My next posting to Kaiapit and Lae in Morobe District and my last posting at District Office, Port Moresby until I left permanently just before Independence meant I never saw a Supreme Court hearing again.

UV: Re Sgt. Major Merire – see also U.V. , No.1, March 2017 pp 43-45.

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