In 2003, RAMSI’s focus was on restoring law and order. This was achieved quickly. The mission then turned its focus to rebuilding the Solomon Islands law and justice sector.
RAMSI’s work in the sector was to ensure a secure, safe, ordered and just Solomon Islands society was created, where laws were administered fairly regardless of position or status, and give due recognition to traditional values and customs.
RAMSI worked 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) over the life of the program, to improve law and justice services in the Solomon Islands.
As part of ‘transition’ the Law and Justice Program was concluded on 1 July 2013. The development support that was delivered under this program was shifted to the Australian aid program.
Prior to RAMSI’s arrival, the Solomon Islands 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.
With RAMSI’s arrival, immediate law and order was restored and some 3700 weapons were surrendered. RAMSI provided skilled personnel, infrastructure, office equipment and resources to ensure those arrested during the tensions could be processed by the courts.
Over the life of the Law and Justice Program, RAMSI had a number of long-term advisers supporting the Solomon Islands judicial system. By working alongside their Solomon Islands colleagues and providing on the job training, RAMSI advisers helped to strengthen the Solomon Islands justice sector and supported a work force that will continue to serve the Solomon Islands’ people long after RAMSI’s departure. RAMSI advisers helped transfer legal knowledge skills as well as core public service skills including budgeting, planning, and monitoring.
The work in the justice sector also focused on the longer term priority of supporting Solomon Islands re-establish a capable and independent law and justice system which could maintain the confidence of the people of the Solomon Islands after RAMSI. This involved building 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.
In a country of over 900 islands, access to the Solomon Islands legal system is extremely difficult for many Solomon Islanders. RAMSI’s support also aimed to help provide adequate justice facilities and personnel in provinces and to provide circuit courts to ensure those Solomon Islanders in isolated communities could have their cases heard.
RAMSI also supported the Solomon Islands Government prosecute most of the offenders responsible for crimes committed during the ethnic tensions between 1998 and 2003. Their prosecution helped to ensure justice was served to those who committed crimes during the tension period, and has helped Solomon Islands move forward as a nation.
Like other organisations, the Solomon Islands Prison Service, as it was known at the time, virtually stopped functioning during the tensions. This followed years of little maintenance and steadily declining standards of discipline.
Rove Prison in Honiara, the largest prison in Solomon Islands, was severely run-down and poorly staffed. Auki Prison in Malaita had been deemed unfit for use by either officers or prisoners, and a number of other provincial prisons were similarly lacking in infrastructure and did not comply with UN standards.
As part of the former Law and Justice Program, RAMSI advisers worked throughout the Solomon Islands correctional system to support the development of improved corrections facilities in the country, and to build long-term capacity in their Solomon Islands colleagues. Their work covered three areas:
Infrastructure – Improving the correctional infrastructure in Solomon Islands was a key priority for RAMSI in its partnership with the Solomon Islands Government under the Law and Justice Program. This work included the refurbishment of a number of provincial correctional centres, and the construction of two new provincial correctional centres in Auki (Malaita Province) and Gizo (Western Province). These correctional centres continue to allow many prisoners to be accommodated and rehabilitated in their home province, which is of significant benefit to the long-term welfare of the prisoner and their families.
Capacity building – Building sustainable capacity within the correctional service was a key focus of RAMSI under the Law and Justice Program. Advisers focused on putting the systems and processes in place to develop the skills and confidence of staff. Due to this, correctional officers now have recognised, accredited qualifications in workplace competencies.
Prisoner Rehabilitation – The approach within the Solomon Islands Correctional Service is now one of rehabilitation, not punishment.RAMSI’s assistance saw programs put in place throughout the Solomon Islands correctional system that provided prisoners with a mix of work and life skills-focused training. These programs continue to help prisoners directly address their offending behaviour, strengthen relationships with family and build structured pre-release plans with the aim that when prisoners finish their time in a correctional centre, they become positive contributors to their community.
With RAMSI’s assistance, the reinvigorated Correctional Services of Solomon Islands (CSSI) has become one of the success stories in Solomon Islands. CSSI is now an attractive employment option in Solomon Islands and is being led by a team of Solomon Islanders. As recognition for the good work now being done by CSSI, the CSSI Women’s Network won the inaugural Australian High Commissioner’s Award for International Women’s Day in 2014.
The Law and Justice Program delivered a number of tangible benefits to Solomon Islanders and strengthened the rule of law before it was concluded in mid-2013. Among its achievements the program has:
- improved the operations of Solomon Islands’ courts, thereby increasing access to justice services
- constructed the Auki Correctional Centre and Magistrates’ Court; refurbished the High Court and Central Magistrates Courts and Kalala House (the building that is home to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services)
- provided support to the Public Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions
- worked with the Attorney-General’s Chambers which is now providing improved legal advice to government and managing its legislative drafting load
- supported the National Judiciary which is now delivering regular and impartial decisions
- established a new family protection unit to help women affected by domestic violence
- worked with Correctional Services of Solomon Islands such that now all of its operating correctional facilities meet UN standards
- helped ensure that over 80% of Correctional officers now have internationally accredited training in correctional practices
- worked to ensure recidivism rates are below 10% due to efforts with prisoner rehabilitation
- with the program’s support, most offenders from the “tensions” were prosecuted, many are now serving life sentences for their crimes
- supported the Office of the DPP to successfully argue that rape in marriage should be illegal, resulting in a change to Solomon Islands law.