29 April 1999


Cook Islands chief justice declares election law unconstitutional

Incident details

legal action

PINA/IFEX - A wide-ranging amendment to Cook Islands electoral laws which
would also have restricted the news media has been declared unconstitutional
by the country's chief justice. The new Electoral Amendment Act forbade
political campaigning except for five weeks prior to a national election.
Radio Australia reported that on 26 April 1999, Chief Justice Peter Quilliam
said he was unable to accept the government's argument that the law was for
the benefit of the public.

The chief justice said the new Electoral Amendment Act was so restrictive
and so broad that it was clearly unconstitutional. He said it would have
achieved a restriction on almost any form of overt political activity in the
Cook Islands at all times between elections, Radio Australia reported.

The chief justice's decision followed an application filed by the opposition
Democratic Alliance Party, seeking a judgment on the Electoral Amendment
Act. They believed it breached fundamental human rights and freedoms
protected by the constitution.

On 27 April, Cook Islands Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry issued a media
statement saying that while he does not accept the decision by Chief Justice
Quilliam, he was willing to abide by it.

Henry said he believed that there were many people who earnestly thought
that all the hoopla, costs, tensions and divisiveness created by political
campaigning could be managed, and ought to be managed, rather than the
current free-for-all, un-Cook Islands way of politicking. "I believe that
democracy in its true meaning will survive nonetheless," said Henry.

Background Information

Cook Islands (population 15,700) is a self-governing country of fifteen
islands, in free association with New Zealand. It already has laws which
severely restrict local media coverage of an offshore finance centre and tax
haven it operates.


Pacific Islands News Association
Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
Private Mail Bag, Suva
Fiji Islands
pina (@) connect.com.fj
Fax:+679 3317055
New Zealand
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