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Pacific Law Pathfinder
Peter Murgatroyd. Updated by Di Thompson, Law Librarian,
University of the South Pacific



Planning an efficient research process involves knowing the resources which are available to help you find the law. Constitutions, legislation and cases are known as primary sources of law. Custom is another primary source of law in some South Pacific jurisdictions.  The Emalus library has the most complete collection of Pacific primary law materials in the world.  Full details of its holdings, as well as links to selected materials available in full text, can be browsed by jurisdiction from the page Pacific Law Collection on the Emalus web site.

To have an awareness and knowledge of the contexts within which Pacific Island legal systems are located and operate,  a depth of contextual knowledge and understanding is also required that includes not only  analysis of the legal frameworks operating in the Pacific but also of the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are placed. To assist staff and students in locating resources on Pacific law 'in context' the following pathfinder has been prepared. 


Primary materials
    Sources of Law in the Pacific
    Case Law
    Online Primary materials
Secondary materials - Pacific law in context
    Encyclopedias and Yearbooks
    Periodicals - including the 'Pacific Law Journal Index'
    Pacific law texts
    Selected texts and collected contextual materials
    CD-ROM resources
    Online Secondary Resources


 All the countries of the USP region have a written constitution, except Tokelau, and all of these written constitutions are stated to be the supreme law in their respective countries. The written constitution of most countries in the University region is to be found in the first volume of the revised laws of the country. Usually it appears as the first law in that first volume. In the revised laws of Samoa however the written constitution appears in the first volume but in strict alphabetical order under the letter "C"; and the constitution of Nauru is to be found in the collection of laws, 1965-1972, amongst the laws enacted for 1968, about halfway through the volume.

If you do not have easy access to a set of the revised laws of a country you will find that the constitutions of the 12 member countries and territories of the USP Region: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa are gathered together in Don Paterson’s ‘Constitutions of the South Pacific’. This is a primary reference source, with the law stated as at 1/1/97 (but includes the 1997 Constitution of Fiji which came into force in 1998). A subsequent volume published in 2000 (Selected constitutions of the South Pacific / Don Paterson, editor. Suva, Fiji : IJALS & USP, 2000. Location: KP14 Pat 2000) updates the Constitutions of the region but omits the Fiji Constitution due to political instability and uncertainty in Fiji at the time of publication.

The earlier two volume set ‘Pacific Constitutions’ published by the University of the South Pacific in 1983 is another possible source. The first volume contains the constitutions of Polynesian; volume 2 the Independent States of Melanesia and Micronesia.

Constitutions of the region can all be found online from the legislation sections of the Pacific Law Collection page.

Sources of Law in the Pacific

Analysis and commentary on the sources of law in the Pacific can be found in the following two publications:

Corrin Care, Jennifer
Introduction to South Pacific Law / Jennifer Corrin Care, Tess Newton and Don Paterson.  London, [England] : Cavendish Publishing, 1999.
Location: KP61 Pac2 1988

Pacific courts and legal systems / editors, Guy Powles and Mere Pulea Pacific courts and justice  . [Suva, Fiji] : University of the South Pacific in association with the Faculty of Law, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, 1988
Location: KP61 Pac2 1988

There is also commentary on sources of law for some jurisdictions online from the Emalus Pacific Law Collection page.


For the countries that make up the USP Region if you go to the multi-volume ‘Revised Laws’ of each country you will find that there are detailed indexes by subject to the legislation of that country. To find legislation that has been enacted after the publication of the Revised Laws it is necessary to examine the legislation year by year. In the Emalus Campus Library for most of the countries of the region the legislation has been bound into yearly volumes and each has a table of contents indicating the legislation that was enacted in that year.  Full details of all holdings of the Emalus Library can be browsed from the Pacific Law Materials page.

Many of the countries in the Pacific Islands region have published consolidations of their statutes. The following consolidations are held in the Emalus Campus Library:

Cook Islands Laws (1994)
Laws of Fiji (1985)
Laws of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands (1973)
Laws of Kiribati (1980)
Marshall Islands Revised Code (1988-)
Laws of Nauru (1966)
Niue Laws (1990)
Revised Laws of Papua New Guinea (1976)
The Laws of the Solomon Islands (1996)
Tokelau Laws (1997)
The Laws of Tonga (1988 rev. ed.)
Laws of Tuvalu (1984)
The Laws of the Republic of Vanuatu (1988)
Western Samoa Statutes Reprint (1920-1977); (1978-1996)

Case Law

Law reports

The following South Pacific law reports series are held in the Emalus Campus library. It should be noted that publication of the various reports is often sporadic. Although the publication of the various reports is continuing, there can be lengthy gaps between volumes.

Fiji Law Reports (FLR) 1876-
Gilbert Island Law Reports (GILR), 1977
Kiribati Island Law Reports (Kir. LR), 1979-
Nauru Law Reports (Nauru LR), 1969-
Papua New Guinea Law Reports (PNGLR), 1963-
Solomon Islands Law Reports (SILR), 1980-
South Pacific Law Reports (SPLR), 1987-1988
Tonga Law Reports (Tonga LR), 1908-
Vanuatu Law Reports (Van. LR), 1980-
Western Samoan Law Reports (WSLR), 1921-

Also of note:

Law Reports of the Commonwealth (1980-)
The Law Reports of the Commonwealth are published in three parts – Criminal, Commercial, and Constitutional and Administrative. The reports publish important decisions from around the Commonwealth including the Pacific Islands. 

Online Primary Materials

The Emalus Law School web site is the most complete repository of Pacific materials on the Internet.  The website of the Emalus Campus contains not only the course materials for the legal courses offered by the Emalus Law School (and accompanying discussion groups for each course) it is also the home of the Journal of South Pacific Law and access to the Emalus Library website

Follow the link marked Pacific Law Collection on the Emalus Library's Law Resources page.   The site contains legislation and  judgments from around the region.  The site also includes detailed notes as to sources of law for each USP member country and includes detailed holdings of Pacific materials held in hardcopy in the Emalus Campus Library, plus links to full text materials on the PacLII web site.


(*The following selected materials help place Pacific law within its social, cultural, and historical context.  This section of the pathfinder has been prepared with the generous assistance of Prof. Guy Powles.)


Elliott, Jacqueline D.
Pacific law bibliography / compiled by Jacqueline D. Elliott 2nd ed. Hobart, Tas. : Pacific Law Press, 1990
LAWREF KP61.1 Ell2 1990

USP Bibliography of Periodicals, USP, Suva
Location: General periodicals collection

Encyclopedias and Yearbooks:

The Pacific Islands : an encyclopedia / edited by Brij V. Lal and Kate Fortune. Honolulu, Hawaii : University of Hawai'i Press, 2000.
Location: Ref 995 PAC

Pacific Islands Yearbook / edited by Norman & Ngaire Douglas 17th ed. Suva, Fiji : Fiji Times Ltd., 1994
 REF 990 Pac. 1994

The Far East and Australasia 2001. 32nd ed.   London [England] : Europa Publications, 2001.
Location: Ref 950.4 FAR 2001

Click here to view a list of resources that contain general reference materials including geography, population, economic indicators etc.

Periodicals (Law):

Pacific Law Journal Index

The  'Pacific Law Journal Index', originally compiled by Peter Murgatroyd, and now maintained by the current Law librarian at the University of the South Pacific,
consolidates article references identified in Jacqui Elliot's 'Pacific Law Bibliography' 2ed., 'Wilsons Index to Legal Periodicals Online', the University of Hawaii's 'Pacific Journals Index' and 'Agis Plus Text online' into one easily searchable online index. 

The following countries are covered in the index. 

Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Micronesia (including Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands), Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.

Articles covering all Islands of the Pacific can also be browsed.

In addition to keyword searching, the Pacific Law Journal Index has a number of powerful 'visual search' options as follows:

'Visual search' by jurisdiction
'Visual search' by date of publication
'Visual search' by topic. 

Topics include:

Pacific Law - Contextual articles (LandCustomHistory (incl. colonialism)ConstitutionPolitics and governmentLeadership and governanceEconomic and social conditionsEnvironment and natural resourcesWomen, Electoral systems, Marine and fisheries, Rights and Special topics (The Fiji coups and Colonialism in the Pacific) ;

Courts and Procedure ;

Criminal Law ;

Contract and Tort Law ;

Equity, Trusts and Succession ;

Legal Education ;

International Law ;

Family Law ;

Computerisation of Law Resources

 The Pacific Law Journal Index  is an absolutely essential access point for journal articles on  Pacific law. 

Journals that give particularly good coverage of Pacific legal issues include:

Commonwealth Law Bulletin
Journal of South Pacific Law
Melanesian Law Journal *
QUT Law & Justice Journal
Revue Juridique Polynesienne (PF)

Legal Lali

Asian Pacific Law & Policy Journal
University of Hawaii Law Review
UPNG Law Review
Victoria University of Wellington Law Review

Periodicals (General):

The University of Hawai'i maintains an excellent index of Pacific journals held in its collection and this is freely available over the Internet.  This is an absolutely essential access point for journal articles on the Pacific. 

Hawai'i Pacific Journal Index
Searchable index (author, title, keyword) of Pacific journals held by the University of Hawaii.  Essential access point for journal articles on the Pacific.  Highly recommended.  *Those journals marked with an asterix above and below can be browsed on the HPJI by entering the name of the journal and then selecting Search by 'Journal Title'.  Results are sorted by author order.

**Journals which will be of particular interest and well worth browsing include the following:

The Contemporary Pacific: a Journal of Island Affairs (Centre for Pacific Studies, UH)* ~ see also abstract archives.  **Of particular note in Contemporary Pacific are the regional legal / political summaries that are included yearly.
Development Bulletin (ANU)
Isla: a Journal of Micronesian Studies (ceased publication in 1997)*
Journal of Pacific History*
The Journal of Pacific Studies (USP)*
The Journal of the Polynesian Society *
ournal of Solomon Island Studies
Man and Culture in Oceania (Japanese Society for Oceanic Studies)*

Pacific Economic Bulletin (ANU)*
Pacific News Bulletin (Pacific Concerns Resource Centre)
Pacific Perspective (USP)*
Pacific Studies (Brigham Young Uni, Hawaii) *
State, Society and Governance Discussion Paper Series  (ANU)~ browse
, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 SSGM Discussion papers and working papers 1996-2002

Pacific Law Texts

The Pacific law texts are located in the section of the Law Texts Collection Beginning KP

eg. Selected Constitutions of the South Pacific / by Don Paterson.  Location: KP14 Pat 2000. 

The full collection of Pacific law texts can  be searched by author, title, and subject from the Emalus library catalogue (see link below) .  The collection can also be browsed using the visual search button 'Pacific law' on the library catalogue.  Please ask one of the librarians for assistance in making best use of the library catalogue.  Many Pacific law texts will  have one copy available from the Library Reserve Collection if none are available on the open shelves.


Search the library catalogue


Quick search - Pacific Law books / articles

Selected Texts and Collected  'Contextual' materials

In addition to books and papers specifically on Pacific law the library holds many contextual materials located mostly in the general collection that are important in gaining a full understanding of Pacific Law.  To locate these materials use the library catalogue and do subject searches using the country that you are interested in plus a subject descriptor from the following list:

Social life and customs
Politics and government
Economic aspects
Economic conditions
Colonies - Islands of the Pacific
Colonial influence
Constitutional law
Land tenure
Land use
Environmental policy
Environmental conditions
Environmental aspects

eg Vanuatu and Social life and customs

For materials that cover the whole region use the terms:

Islands of the Pacific

eg Oceania and Land tenure

*The Library has created some topical bibliographies to assist you in locating contextual materials: click here for details.  Browse buttons include the following broad subject areas: Land Custom,  History (incl. colonialism) Constitution Politics and government Leadership and governance Economic and social conditions Environment and natural resources, and  Women.

The list of materials below has been selected by Prof. Guy Powles as particularly useful in gaining a fuller understanding of the contexts of Pacific law.  Follow the hypertext links to browse chapter titles:

Governance and Reform in the South Pacific, P. Lamour ed, ANU, 1998

Collective Human Rights of Pacific Peoples, Nin Tomas ed, NZHRC, 1998

Fiji and the World, B. Lal and T. Vakatora eds, USP, 1997

Fiji in Transition, B. Lal and T. Vakatora eds, USP, 1997

     Confronting Fiji Futures, Akram-Lodhi Haroon A (ed)  Australian National University, Canberra, 2000

      Land Issues in the Pacific, R. Crocombe & and M. Meleisea eds, USP, 1994

Developing Cultural Criminology: Theory and practice  in Papua New Guinea Banks, Cindi (ed)  Sydney Institute of Criminology Monograph Series   No.13, Sydney, 2000

Public Administration and Management in small states: Pacific Experience  Yash, Ghai (ed) IPS, USP, Suva 1990

Leadership in the Pacific islands: tradition and future,   Donald R; Lamour, Peter and Von strokirch, Karin (eds) National Centre for Development Studies, RSPAS, ANU, Canberra, 1998

South Pacific Land Tenure Conflict Symposium
Proceedings and full text access to papers delivered at the South Pacific Land Tenure Conflict Symposium 10-12 April 2002.

Reflections on Violence in Melanesia, S. Dinnen & A. Ley eds, ANU, 2000

Governance in Samoa, E. Hueffer & A. So’o eds, ANU, 2000

Culture and Sustainable Development in the Pacific. A. Hooper ed, ANU, 2000

Chiefs Today: Traditional Pacific Leadership and the Post-Colonial State, G. White & L.

Lindstrom eds, Stanford, 1997

Custom at the Crossroads, J. Aleck & J. Rannells eds, UPNG Law, 1995

Land, Custom and Practice in the South Pacific R.G.Ward & E.Kingdon,eds Cambridge, 1995

Customary Land Tenure and Sustainable Development: Complementarity or Conflict?, R. Crocombe & ors eds, USP, 1995

New Politics in the South Pacific, W. von Busch & ors eds, USP, Suva, 1994

Tides of History: the Pacific Islands in the 20th Century, K.Howe & ors eds, Allens, 1994;

South Pacific Islands Legal Systems, M.Ntumy, ed, Uni of Hawaii Press, 1993;

Resources, Development and politics in the Pacific Islands, S.Henningham & R.May eds Crawford House, 1992

Tu Galala: Social Change in the Pacific, D.Robie ed Wellington, 1992

South Pacific Foreign Affairs Handbook, S.Hoadly, Allen & Unwin, 1992

Heads of State in the South Pacific, Y.Ghai & J.Cottrell eds, USP, Suva, 1990

Pacific Courts and Legal Systems, G.Powles & M.Pulea eds, USP, Suva, 1988

Law, Politics and Government in Pacific Island States, Y.Ghai ed, USP, Suva, 1988

Class and Culture in the South Pacific, A.Hooper & ors eds, USP, Suva, 1987

Land Tenure in the Pacific 3rd ed R.Crocombe,ed IPS, USP, 1987

Land Tenure in the Atolls R.Crocombe,ed IPS, USP, 1987

Legal Pluralism, P. Sack & E. Minchin eds, ANU, 1986

LAWASIA Conference Proceedings: Prospects for Human Rights in South Pacific, LAWASIA, 1985

Melanesia: Beyond Diversity Vols I & II, R.May & H.Nelson eds ANU, 1983

Pacific Constitutions P.Sack ed, ANU, 1982

‘Occasional’ Series, ‘Working’ Papers, Annual Reports, Conference Papers, Yearbooks and Workshop Proceedings are also a rich source of material and should not be overlooked.  Of particular note are the regional political summaries in the Asia-Pacific Constitutional Yearbook.

CD-ROM resources

Pacific Politics
    The CD-ROM Pacific Politics is produced as part of an Australian radio programme called Time to Talk. 
Time to Talk is about politics, society and governance in today's Pacific. This CD-Rom offers information, opinions, background and analysis, with transcripts and audio of the Time to Talk radio series.  The CD-ROM is available from all PC's in the Emalus library.  The CD-ROM also includes listing of books, articles and websites in the following topic areas:

Governance; Colonial legacies; Independence and nation building; Roles and structures of government; After independence - what happened?; The governance agenda; Economic reform; Corruption and the rule of law; Justice, law and order; Community governance; Information, education and media; Human rights and gender equality; Contesting state rule.

Online Secondary Resources

Emalus Library Pacific Law Online Documents Collection
The library has made many articles relating to Pacific law available in full text via the new library catalogue.  The library's digital collection can be searched by keyword and all documents will be available in full text from the USP network.

Recommended Internet Links
    Compiled by Peter Murgatroyd, Law Librarian, at Emalus Campus, this annotated collection of internet links focuses on those resources that will be of particular interest to those living and working in the Pacific.  The links page is divided into two parts: general and law and both sets of links have a particularly strong focus on the Pacific.

Pacific Law in Context: a selective bibliography
This is a pilot project being developed jointly by Guy Powles, Sue Farran and Peter Murgatroyd.  The aim of the project is to provide access to contextual materials in the Pacific that are  relevant to Pacific law.