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Indian Ocean Territories

Indian Ocean TerritoriesThe Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Islands comprise the Indian Ocean Territories of the Commonwealth. These islands became Territories of the Commonwealth in the 1950's and until recently had a system of law inherited from Singapore when they became dependencies immediately after the Second World War. The Islands are not self governing but they do have a local government.

The Indian Ocean Territories occupy a unique position in relation to the application of laws of the Commonwealth when compared with the position of other external territories. Since July 1 1992 and pursuant to s 17(a) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth), a reference to 'Australia' in a Commonwealth statute specifically includes a reference to the Indian Ocean Territories. Consequently all laws of the Commonwealth, subject to specific exceptions that may be stated or implied in a particular statute, are applicable to the Indian Ocean Territories as if they were a part of Australia. No other external territories have the laws of the Commonwealth generally applying in this manner. The Ordinances of the Governor-General have no effect to the extent they purport to affect the application of a federal statute in relation to the Indian Ocean Territories.

As a result of the Territories Law Reform Act 1992 (Cth) a Western Australian based legal system was introduced to the Indian Ocean Territories from 1 July 1992. The federal Government has also agreed with the Western Australian State Government for it to administer the new laws with respect to the Indian Ocean Territories on an agency basis on behalf of the Commonwealth. This is to be conducted on a contract basis. This is specifically provided for in s 8H of the respective Acts supporting the existence of each Indian Ocean Territory. In effect this gives responsibility for enforcement of all laws, State and federal, to the appropriate courts of the State of Western Australia.

For both the Indian Ocean Territories the Western Australian courts have jurisdiction in relation to each Territory as if the Territory were a part of the State of Western Australia. The rules of practice and procedure of the West Australian courts will also apply to each Territory. However, this position is made subject to any other law relating to each Territory existing before July 1 1992 that is to remain in force. The Western Australian Supreme Court is responsible for the overall administration of justice in the Indian Ocean Territories.

Subject to the preserved existing laws and the laws of the federal Parliament as they apply to each Territory, the laws of Western Australia are also deemed to be in force for each of the Territories. However an Ordinance by the Governor-General relating to any of the Territories may amend or repeal any law of Western Australia. Alternatively, the Western Australian Parliament may terminate the operation of a Western Australian statute in either of the Territories.

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Page last modified: 27-03-2012 18:12:53 ZULU