Fisheries conference centre becomes courtroom for practice IUU cases

18th Nov 2015, FFA HQ, Honiara SOLOMON ISLANDS – Pacific prosecutors and Fisheries officials are putting Illegal fishers on trial this week. They’ve transformed the FFA Conference Centre venue into a moot-courtroom with role plays around scenarios involving illegal fishing boats accused of breaking their license rules in Pacific EEZs.

FFA’s MCS Policy Advisor Peter Graham became courtroom bailiff and Legal Advisors Dr Filimon Manoni and Tion Nabau became Presiding Judges in the country of Pasifika. Pacific legal eagles from 15 countries became prosecutors and defence lawyers while MCS officers’ role played vessel captains, observers, and inspecting officers.

Organising the MCS Prosecutors workshop, Dr Manoni says the role plays were aimed at making seasoned Pacific prosecutors more familiar with the specificities of Fisheries offences, and at helping MCS officers at the front line of the tuna fisheries to become more confident in handling cross-examination.

“It’s so important because we are looking at criminal investigations when jail terms or fines in the millions of US dollars, are applied,” says Dr Manoni. “A lot of our MCS officials are more confident on a fishing vessel than in a courtroom. But at some point in their career, they are likely to testify in court. It’s important they are confident and able to respond clearly to questions, and that they prepare for a courtroom scenario.”

While he’s no stranger to the courtroom, Prosecutors such as Laurence Edwards from the Marshall Islands says enacting role plays was a great way to apply this week’s lectures around the Law of the Sea, regional, and national frameworks for Fisheries. “I found it very beneficial in terms of the theoretical application to real life practice. This helps us prepare for the reality of fisheries cases like this,” he says.

For Tuvalu’s Kasipo Teo, the court room scenario has been especially useful. “I haven’t been in court yet on a fisheries case, but setting up a real life situation to help our lectures is helpful for us all, to get a taste of what to expect in court. That’s been really helpful.”

Having to overcome nerves and language barriers, some witnesses found the role playing a learning curve for real life lessons. “Nerves for witnesses can mean the difference between winning and losing a case,” says Dr Manoni. “If you haven’t prepared, you won’t be able to be a confident witness.”

One such witness, an MCS observer whose performance had the ‘courtroom’ in fits of laughter, admitted he was overcome by nerves. “It was my first time to do this kind of exercise—I realised one of the things I need to do now is build up my knowledge on standing by my statements, especially when I’m under pressure in the courtroom.”

Fiji Prosecutor Waikesa Elo showed how strong and focussed questions can help to make unprepared witnesses squirm. “Sharing experience across our different countries has been quite impressive, it’s been really good experiencing these mock trials with colleagues from different jurisdictions, and the judge did a great job.”

Earlier in the week, the workshop participants were welcomed to the training event by FFA’s Deputy Director General, Wez Norris, who noted the achievements led by FFA members in MCS work. He says Pacific nations have built the regional toolbox for Monitoring, Control and Surveillance over tuna fishing activity, and built compliance and operational capacities at national level. The help from the Quads—defence assets of Australia, France, the US and New Zealand, has boosted national reach and regional assets during surveillance exercises.

“However, none of that is worthwhile if there isn’t also the capacity and willingness to put detected breaches through the national legal system – to prosecute or otherwise settle cases. And that’s where you come in. We’re delighted to have you here and we recognize and respect the legal expertise in the room,” DDG Norris told the workshop.

He says the intention is not to teach people prosecution or MCS skills they already have. Deepening the exposure of prosecutors to the world of Fisheries, and MCS officials to the world of the criminal courts, “will help participants understand different ways of dealing with the same issues.”

The MSC Prosecutions workshop was supported by FFA in partnership with the EU-funded DEVFISH II project, which targets ending IUU Fishing as one way to ensure Pacific nations get a fairer slice from the multi-billion dollar tuna fishery in their EEZs.-ENDS