After 1884 the Germans and the British introduced modified versions of their own law. When the Australians took over German New Guinea in 1914, the military occupation used a combination of the existing German law and Australian military and civilian law. When the Australian Mandated Territory Administration took over from the military in 1921, German and military law was replaced by a modified system of Australian law. In Australian Papua law was mainly based on Australian law which was derived from British law. All three colonial administrations adopted criminal codes which provided for capital punishment. Under Australian administration, death sentences were often imposed, but usually (almost invariably in Papua) remitted. In the aftermath of World War II, the Australian military administration set up courts which tried Melanesians for collaboration with the Japanese. A number were hanged in public. When the Labor Party Government in Australia learned of this it intervened to prevent further executions. The death penalty was not applied in the postwar Territory of Papua New Guinea.
In 1975 the Constitution provided for an independent judiciary and laws based on Australian models, but with some laws based on traditional or customary law. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority, deals with appeals from the National Court and the interpretation of the Constitution. The National Court deals with the most serious civil and criminal cases. District courts deal with civil cases involving compensation, some indictable offenses and serious summary offenses. Local Courts deal with minor offenses and aspects of customary law allowed under the Constitution. There is a special Land Court to deal with land disputes. Offenses committed by anyone under the age of 16 are dealt with by a Children’s Court. The Supreme Court has a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and judges drawn, as required, from the National Court. The Chief Justice is appointed, and can be dismissed, by the Head of State on the recommendation of the National Executive Council. Judges and magistrates for Local Courts are appointed by a politically independent Judicial and Legal Services Commission.
See also: Customary Law in Papua New Guinea