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Legal System

Kiribati inherited the Common Law system from the United Kingdom, although the courts must also take customary law into account when considering specified matters in criminal and civil proceedings. The legal system consists of three tiers of justice, before the final court of appeal the Privy Council in England. The courts of first instance are the magistrates’ courts, of which there are more than 20, which have jurisdiction within the limits of the district within which they are situated. The magistrates’ courts are on a district basis and are composed of three magistrates and a clerk. Usually, magistrates are respected village elders, or unimane, and the courts are conducted in I-Kiribati. A great deal of the authority of the magistrates’ court arises from the unimane status of the magistrates, rather than an inherent respect for the English Common Law. There is a magistrates’ court for each of the islands of the Gilbert group, one court for the Line Islands based on Kiritimati Island, and the two urban centres of Betio and South Tarawa also have their own magistrates’ court.  

Kiribati’s outer islands usually do not have lawyers or qualified judges, so it is the court of magistrates who deal with common cases there. Appeals from these courts can be taken to the High Court, which additionally has original jurisdiction in the most serious civil and criminal cases. The Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction to hear civil and criminal appeals from any High Court decision on a question of law and to hear civil appeals with leave. The Court of Appeal is presided over by a Chief Justice and other justices of the High Court. The Chief Justice is appointed by the President of Kiribati, who then advises the president on appointing the other judges. The High Court consists of a Chief Justice and other judges, with the Chief Justice also presiding over the appointment of magistrates. Additionally, native land courts have jurisdiction over property claims. The Land Division of the High Court deals with appeals relating to land, divorce and inheritance.

Legal organisations in Kiribati
Lang & Co.