Judiciary of Solomon Islands

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Solomon Islands

The judiciary of Solomon Islands is a branch of the Government of Solomon Islands that interprets and applies the laws of Solomon Islands, to ensure equal justice under law, and to provide a mechanism for dispute resolution. The legal system is derived from chapter VII, part II of the Constitution, adopted when the country became independent from the United Kingdom in 1978. The Constitution provided for the creation of a High Court, with original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, and a Court of Appeal. It also provided for the possibility of "subordinate courts", with no further specification (art.84).[1]

The court system is under the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Legal Affairs,[2] who as of June 2013 is Commins Mewa.[3]

Prior to the beginning of the international Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003, designed to restore peace and order in the country and reinforce its institutions, the "justice system was barely functioning, with courts rarely sitting and those awaiting trial often waiting more than two years for their case to be heard".[4] The judiciary was strengthened over the following years, and as of 2013 RAMSI maintains "19 long-term advisers supporting the Solomon Islands judicial system".[4]

Like that of most Pacific island countries, Solomon Islands' court system relies partly on foreign judges, from other common law countries. Thus, the judges of the Court of Appeal "include senior judges from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea".[2] Foreign judges are also found in the High Court.[5]

The court system at present is structured as follows.[6]

Local courts[edit]

Local courts have both civil and criminal jurisdiction when all parties live within the area under that jurisdiction.[6] Rulings are issued not by professional judges but by community elders, applying customary law and local by-laws.[2] Sentences passed in criminal cases may not exceed six months imprisonment, nor a fine of SI$ 200. A case may only be brought to a local court once "all traditional means of resolving the dispute have been exhausted", and the case has been submitted to local chiefs without the latter's ruling being satisfactory to all parties.[6]

Appeals from a local court are heard by a magistrate's court, or by the Customary Land Appeal Court if the dispute relates to customary land.[6]

Customary Land Appeal Court[edit]

The Customary Land Appeal Court hears only cases relating to the use and ownership of indigenous customary land, on appeal from a local court. It applies customary law. Appeals from this court are possible only on a point of law, and are heard by the High Court.[6]

Magistrates' courts[edit]

Magistrates' courts have both civil and criminal jurisdiction, in limited types of cases. Civil cases in contract or tort may only be heard in the magistrates' court if the value of the claim does not exceed SI$6,000. The maximum sentence imposable in criminal cases is fourteen years' imprisonment. The court has both original and appellate jurisdiction, hearing appeals from local courts. Appeals from the magistrates' court are heard by the High Court.[6]

High Court[edit]

The High Court has "unlimited original civil and criminal jurisdiction" (in more serious cases), and appellate jurisdiction, hearing appeals from the magistrates' courts and from the Customary Land Appeal Court (on points of law only for the latter). The High Court's rulings on appeal from the Customary Land Appeal Court are final. Other High Court rulings are subject to appeal to the Court of Appeal.[6]

The court is presided by the Chief Justice, and is composed of puisne judges.[7] As of 2013, the Chief Justice is Sir Albert Rocky Palmer.[8]

Previous Chief Justices have included Renn Davis, appointed the first Chief Justice of the Solomon Islands in 1976, Sir Frederik Gordon Ward, who left the Solomon Islands in 1992 to become Chief Justice of Tonga and John Baptiste Muria who held the post from 1992 to 2003.[9]

Court of Appeal[edit]

The Court of Appeal is the country's supreme court. It has appellate jurisdiction only, hearing appeals from the High Court.[6]

The court is presided by the President of the Court of Appeal. In addition to High Court judges, who sit in the Court of Appeal ex officio, the Court of Appeal includes Justices of Appeal.[10] As of 2011, the President of the Court of Appeal is Sir Robin Auld (an English judge).[11] From March 2014 Justice Edwin Goldsbrough will serve as the President of the Court of Appeal for the Solomon Islands. Justice Goldsbrough has previously served a five-year terms as a Judge of the High Court of the Solomon Islands (2006-2011). Justice Edwin Goldsbrough then served as the Chief Justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands.[12]

Public Solicitor of the Solomon Islands[edit]

The Public Solicitor was established by Section 92 of the Constitution of Solomon Islands 1978 which mandates that the officeholder must be a barrister, solicitor or advocate that is entitled to practice law in the Solomon Islands. The Public Solicitor provides legal assistance to individuals that fall within the circumstances as prescribed by the Parliament. For instance, the Public Solicitor provides legal aid to those charged with a criminal offense or as ordered by the High Court.[13]

Public Solicitor of the Solomon Islands (Incomplete Table)
Name Term
Kenneth Brown[14][15][16][17] (1st to serve in the role) c. 1982-1988
Patrick Lavery[18][19][20][21][22] c. 1993-2002
Ken Averre[23] c. 2003-2008
Douglas Hou[24][25][26] c. 2009-2018


  1. ^ Constitution of Solomon Islands, 1978
  2. ^ a b c "Judicial System of Solomon Islands", Commonwealth Governance
  3. ^ Cabinet of Solomon Islands Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine, CIA
  4. ^ a b "Justice" Archived 2012-10-30 at the Wayback Machine, RAMSI
  5. ^ "New High Court judge sworn in" Archived 2013-12-21 at the Wayback Machine, Solomon Star, 20 July 2012
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Solomon Islands Courts System Information", Pacific Law Database
  7. ^ Constitution of Solomon Islands, art.77.
  8. ^ "Chief Justice Shares Concerns", Solomon Times, 22 January 2013
  9. ^ "Speakers at 21ST PACIFIC JUDICIAL CONFERENCE 2014". Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  10. ^ Constitution of Solomon Islands, art.85.
  11. ^ "It's final - SINUW lost" Archived 2014-02-01 at the Wayback Machine, Solomon Star, 6 December 2011
  12. ^ Boyce, Hayden (20 September 2014). "Turks & Caicos Islands Chief Justice Edwin Goldsbrough Resigns". Turks & Caicos Sun. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
  13. ^ Powles, Guy; Pulea, Mere (1988). Pacific Courts and Legal Systems. editorips@usp.ac.fj. ISBN 9789820200432.
  15. ^ Cooper, Judy (2009-11-26). "Ken Brown obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  17. ^ Powles, Guy; Pulea, Mere (1988). Pacific Courts and Legal Systems. editorips@usp.ac.fj. ISBN 9789820200432.
  19. ^ "Property Rights Dimensions of Forest Management and Control: Case Studies in the Solomon Islands and British Columbia, Canada" (PDF). 2005.
  20. ^ The Far East and Australasia. Europa Publications. 1997. ISBN 9781857430387.
  21. ^ Publications, Europa (September 2002). Europa World Year Book. Europa Publications. ISBN 9781857431292.
  22. ^ "LAWYER SHORTAGE IN SOLOMON ISLANDS | Pacific Islands Report". www.pireport.org. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  23. ^ "Solomons public solicitor Averre quits post". Radio New Zealand. 2008-06-23. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  24. ^ "SOLOMONS PUBLIC SOLICITOR WANTS TO RETAIN GOOD LAWYERS | Pacific Islands Report". www.pireport.org. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  25. ^ Weekly, Lawyers (2012-03-03). "Pacifying the Pacific: Law in the Solomon Islands". Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  26. ^ "Dedicated son of public solicitor's office bids farewell". The Islandsun Daily News. 2018-06-25. Retrieved 2019-02-06.