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Can PNG Customary Acts Override SABL Termination?

Question from Keith, Can PNG Customary Acts Override SABL Termination?

Answer from AI:

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the relationship between customary law and formal statutory law, including the Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL) framework, is complex. Understanding whether a customary act can bypass the statutory process for terminating an SABL title requires a nuanced look at PNG’s legal landscape.

Understanding SABLs

Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABLs) are a form of land lease in PNG that allow for large-scale agricultural and other developmental projects. These leases have been controversial due to concerns over land rights, environmental impacts, and the consent of indigenous landowners.

Customary Law vs. Statutory Law

PNG’s legal system recognizes customary law, which is the body of practices, traditions, and norms indigenous to PNG’s diverse communities. However, the formal legal system, based on statutory law, often operates alongside customary law. The Constitution of PNG acknowledges customary law, provided it does not conflict with the written law or principles of justice, humanity, and decency.

Can Customary Acts Override SABL Termination?

No direct legal provision allows a customary act to bypass the statutory process for terminating an SABL title. The process for terminating an SABL is governed by statutory law, specifically the Land Act and related regulations. These laws outline the procedures and grounds upon which an SABL can be terminated, such as breaches of lease conditions or expiration of the lease term.

However, customary law can play a role in the broader context of land rights and disputes in PNG. For instance:

  1. Customary landowners may challenge the validity of an SABL based on the argument that proper consent was not obtained or that the lease violates customary rights.
  2. In some cases, courts have recognized the importance of customary land rights and have invalidated SABLs that were improperly granted.

Legal and Practical Considerations

For those seeking to challenge or terminate an SABL, it’s important to understand both the statutory requirements and the potential role of customary law. Key considerations include:

  • Legal Representation: Navigating the intersection of customary law and statutory law can be complex, and legal advice from a professional familiar with PNG law is crucial.
  • Documentation and Evidence: Whether arguing a case based on statutory law or customary rights, having thorough documentation and evidence is essential.
  • Community Engagement: Given the communal nature of customary land in PNG, engaging with the community and securing their support can be a critical aspect of any legal challenge to an SABL.

Conclusion

While customary law is a significant aspect of PNG’s legal system, there is no straightforward mechanism for a customary act to directly bypass the statutory process for terminating an SABL title. However, customary rights and concerns can influence legal proceedings related to land disputes and SABLs. Individuals or communities seeking to challenge an SABL should consult with legal professionals to explore their options within the framework of both statutory and customary law.

For more detailed information on SABLs and customary land rights in PNG, visiting the PNG Judiciary website or the Department of Lands and Physical Planning can provide valuable resources and guidance.

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