RAMSI is now focused on the longer term priority of supporting Solomon Islands to re-establish a capable and independent law and justice system which maintains the confidence of the people of the Solomon Islands. This means continuing to build the capacity of the court system and legal staff, progressing law reforms, and strengthening engagement with traditional justice systems that use local leaders and custom law to mediate disputes.
The RAMSI Justice Program works with the Solomon Islands Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Attorney-General’s Chambers, Law Reform Commission, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Public Solicitor’s Office, Police Prosecutions Directorate and National Judiciary (including the High Court and the Magistrates’ Court) to improve law and justice services in the Solomon Islands.
Partnership Framework Aspiration Goal: A secure, safe, ordered and just Solomon Islands society where laws are administered fairly regardless of position or status, giving due recognition to traditional values and customs.
Partnership Framework Target: 1) The Solomon Islands Justice System is able to effectively administer the law with limited assistance and 2) Approach to how to support community justice is agreed to by the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI.
The key outcomes sought by the program are:
1. Solomon Islands personnel across the Justice System are increasingly empowered and skilled to perform their jobs. This includes ensuring legal representation and prosecution in all courts is led by local lawyers and prosecutors.
2. Justice sector agencies improve their capacity to administer their roles and responsibilities. This includes improving budgeting and staff planning.
3. The Justice Sector Consultative Committee works effectively as a peak governance decision-making body.
4. The number of matters before the Court of Appeal, High Court, Magistrates Court, Customary Land Appeals Court and Local Court, are disposed of in a timely fashion increases. Culturally and socially appropriate sentences are used by the judiciary.
5. Legislation, policies and procedures are developed to support and strengthen formal sector justice initiatives at the local level. Includes strengthening links between the formal and informal justice sectors and supporting traditional leaders to implement local justice.
In a country of over 900 islands, access to the Solomon Islands legal system is extremely difficult for many Solomon Islanders. RAMSI’s support is helping to provide adequate justice facilities and personnel in provinces and to provide circuit courts to ensure those Solomon Islander’s in isolated communities can have their cases heard.
RAMSI is also supporting the Solomon Islands Government to complete the ‘tension trials’ to bring people to account for crimes committed during the ethnic tensions between 1998 and 2003. Their completion will ensure justice is served to those who committed crimes during the tension period, and will help Solomon Islanders move forward as a nation.
RAMSI also supports the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program and Save the Children’s Children and Youth in Conflict with the Law project with RAMSI’s Participating Police Force.
Achievements so far
Since RAMSI’s Justice program commenced, significant progress has been made.
- Administrative and operational systems in the Magistrates’ Court, High Court and Court of Appeal have improved. RAMSI-supported infrastructure upgrades, coupled with improvements in operations and staff capacity have led to measureable improvements in service delivery:
- High Court civil case disposals increased from 180 in 2009 to 437 in 2011
- Remand times have reduced to less than five months, compared to over 12 months in 2004.
- In 2011, a trial could go from charge to court in approximately two weeks – two years ago this process took up to 18 months
- Significant law reforms have been achieved with RAMSI support to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, including the passing of the Evidence Act, which assists in the prosecution of sexual assaults and provides greater protection for victims and witnesses. RAMSI has also helped to update laws such as the Civil Procedure Rules and the Environmental and Wildlife regulations so that they meet current needs in Solomon Islands.
- A new Magistrates’ Court in the provincial capital Auki has been built.
- All legal institutions now headed by Solomon Islanders.
Case study: Malaita Magistrates Court: The new Auki Court House
A joint initiative between the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI, Malaita Magistrates’ Court represents an important step in improving access for Malaitans to the Solomon Islands justice system. With the opening of the new complex, Malaitans are now able to access the services of the High Court (not just the Magistrates’ Court) on their own island - a significant step towards making justice more accessible and more affordable.
The new complex was officially opened in May 2010 by Solomon Islands Chief Justice, Sir Albert Palmer CBE, who described it as ‘the new face of justice’ in the country, reflecting the strong direction justice is now taking in Solomon Islands.
“This is where the battle for justice, for legal rights, for the truth and the culpability of a crime can be determined without having to resort to violence or the use of force,” Sir Albert said. “It is where the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the offender and victim, the citizens of this country can come to have their grievances and disputes in law heard on a level playing field by an impartial, independent and objective adjudicator.”
In his formal handing over the building to the Solomon Islands Government, former RAMSI Special Coordinator Graeme Wilson said that alongside the strengthening of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and the opening of the province’s new Correctional Centre, the new Malaita Magistrate’s Court meant Solomon Islands’ Malaita Province was now leading the nation in the development of its law and justice sector.
“With the opening of this court house, the police, suspects and victims involved in cases in Malaita will no longer have to wait months to have their cases heard. Most importantly, the people of Malaita will no longer have to travel a great distance, and at great cost, to Honiara to properly access their country’s justice system”.
During construction, the Malaita Magistrates’ Court project employed over 250 Malaitans on site, with nearly SBD 8m spent in Solomon Islands on the construction, including over SBD 1.7m spent directly in Malaita. Designed with a strong focus on sustainability, Malaita Magistrates’ Court incorporates the extensive use of ventilation, insulating building materials and low-intensity lighting to ensure minimal electricity is used at the site.