Book review: A journey with the ‘Pub Sols’ of Papua and New Guinea

Title:                 THE CHRONICLE OF A YOUNG LAWYER: A legal journey in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea
Author:            Kerry Dillon
Publisher:       Hybrid Publishers 2020
ISBN:                 9781925736410
Format:            Paperback/363pp
RRP:                   $35

The Office of the Public Solicitor (Pub Sols) began in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG) in 1958 and was guided from then almost to the independence of PNG in 1975 by the late W.A. (Peter) Lalor, to whom this book is dedicated.

The author, Kerry Dillon, was one of the many lawyers who contributed over those 17 years, including many from Queensland.

The framers of the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) rightly believed that the Public Solicitor’s Office had played such an important role in the development of the rule of law and access to justice, and was such an important part of the emerging nation’s legal system, that the Constitution established the Public Solicitor as a Law Officer of PNG (Articles 156 and 176) and provided independence and tenure (Articles 177 and 178).

This is an important book, because the information it provides is not available elsewhere in convenient form. It is well-researched and illustrated with photographs. It is a riveting and enjoyableread for a general audience, as well as for lawyers and persons with connections with PNG for whom it will strike various chords.

It is, as the title suggests, a chronicle by Kerry Dillon (from Tasmania) of his two years as a young lawyer in TPNG in 1969-71. It tells Dillon’s personal and professional story of a couple of months in the Crown Law Department and the rest of his contract term in Pub Sols, travelling throughout the Territory on circuit with the (then) Supreme Court, defending the “locals”.

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Dillon takes the reader on circuit with him, providing the background and some history for each circuit, describing many of the cases in which he was involved and assessing their resolution. It was not all work, of course, but Dillon deals with social life sparingly (perhaps wisely).

It was a time when Australian law (and a little United Kingdom law) applied in PNG, with the Queensland Criminal Code forming the basis of criminal law. Judges and lawyers came from all parts of Australia and New Zealand on contract to judge, to prosecute and to defend – and to work in other areas of law in the developing nation.

Most of the lawyers employed there at the time and mentioned in the book went on to great things elsewhere. From Queensland, to mention a few: the Bench (Brian Hoath, Clive Wall QC and John Baulch QC to the District Court), the solicitors’ branch of the profession (Eamon Lindsay in Townsville – also a longstanding MP), the Bar (Rob O’Regan QC, Kevin McCreanor and Jim Bradshaw – Rob O’Regan was also a Professor of Law and Law School Head at the University of Queensland and Chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission). The author, Kerry Dillon, practised as Assistant Director of the Legal Aid Commission in Queensland in the early 1980s, at the Bar from 1990 and as a magistrate from 1998 until retirement in 2003.

This book, in telling the stories of Dillon’s many experiences in the law in all parts of TPNG, illustrates and underlines the enormous contribution made by these professionals to the application of the rule of law in a slightly wild jurisdiction where payback killings were common in some areas and where the death penalty was available.

But this is much more than a diary. Always in the background are the politics of a developing nation moving towards independence and Australia’s role in that process. The stories of unrest on the Gazelle Peninsular (Rabaul), arising from agitation for proper land rights and political representation by the Mataungan Association and some future leading politicians, and Dillon’s role in representing those charged in 1969 and 1970, presage the murder of Jack Emanuel, District Commissioner, in August 1971. The manoeuvring behind the scenes by the Administrator, David Hay, with John Gorton and the later pressure also on Gough Whitlam to grant independence are described with new insights.

Everyone in the Australian profession will recognise in their own jurisdictions the principles and procedures that were diligently applied and followed by the young lawyers in TPNG, guided by their very capable and experienced seniors, as described in the book. Kerry Dillon was a fine example of those young lawyers, as his subsequent career amply demonstrates.

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Nicholas Cowdery overlapped with Kerry Dillon in TPNG, arriving in 1971 and leaving in 1975. Like Dillon, he spent a couple of months initially in the Crown Law Department and moved to Pub Sols. He was based in Port Moresby, Rabaul (including at the time of the Jack Emanuel murder trial in which Queensland and NSW counsel were briefed), Port Moresby again and Lae, where he established the branch office of Pub Sols.

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