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Cook Islands Courts System Information

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Pacific Courts - Cook Islands













·        hears both civil and criminal appeals from the Court of Appeal where:

·        the case involves a substantive question of law as to the interpretation or effect of the Constitution of Cook Islands;

·        final judgment has been given, involving at least $5000; or

·        the appeal involves a question of great general or public importance or one  which otherwise ought to be submitted to the Privy Council.

·        does not hear appeals from decisions as to the right of a person to hold a chiefly office or as to ownership of customary land, Ariki land, or as to land owned in fee simple by a Cook Islander.



·        has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the High Court as of right where:

·        the High Court certifies that a substantive question of law is involved;

·        the dispute involves $400 or more;

·        a question of law arises as to the interpretation of the Constitution; and

·        the appellant has been sentenced to death or life imprisonment, or if the High Court has passed a sentence of 6 months imprisonment or a fine no less than $200, unless the sentence is one fixed by law.

·        may hear appeals with the leave of the High Court or special leave of the Court of Appeal, in certain cases;

·        may also determine a question of law by way of case stated, either on application by a party or the High Court’s own motion.


HIGH COURT (constituted by a High Court Judge)

·        has unlimited original jurisdiction in relation to both civil and criminal matters;

·        may hear appeals, in relation to civil and criminal matters, from all decisions of justices of the peace, whether sitting alone or together.


HIGH COURT (constituted by Justices of the Peace)

·        jurisdiction differs depending on the number of justices presiding.

·        A single justice presiding has jurisdiction to deal with –

·        actions for the recovery of any debt or damages or recovery of chattels, where not more than $1,500 is involved;

·        criminal offences which are punishable by fine only;

·        criminal offences listed in Pt I of Schedule 2 of the Judicature Act 1980-81;

·        criminal offences for the purpose of receiving a plea from an accused person;

·        criminal offences specified outside of the Judicature Act 1980-81 that other legislation specifies may be determined by a justice sitting alone.

·        The maximum penalty that may be given by a justice sitting alone is imprisonment up to 2 years and/or a fine of no more than $200.

·        Three justices sitting together may deal with:

·        actions for the recovery of any debts or damages or recovery of chattels, involving between $1,500 and $3,000;

·        criminal offences specified in Part II of the Schedule 2 to the Judicature Act 1980-81; and

·        criminal proceedings where the legislation creating the offence specifies that it may be heard by the High Court presided over by three justices.

·        the maximum sentences available to a Court comprising of 3 justices is a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years and/or a fine not exceeding $300.

 ·        Both a single justice and a full bench may have additional jurisdiction conferred by statute.

* For more information on the court system in Cook Islands see Jennifer Corrin-Care, Tess Newton and Don Paterson Introduction to South Pacific Law (Cavendish Publishing Ltd, London, 1999) 280-284.


© 2001 University of the South Pacific

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