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Marshall Islands Courts System Information
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MARSHALL ISLANDS *
Republic of the Marshall Islands: Judicial Branch
Article VI of the Marshall Islands Constitution provides that “[t]he judicial power of the Republic of the Marshall Islands shall be independent of the legislative and executive powers and shall vest in a Supreme Court, a High Court, a Traditional Rights Court, and such District Courts, Community Courts and other subordinate courts as are created by law, . . .” Each court [has the] power to issue all writs and other processes, make rules and orders, and promulgate all procedural rules, not inconsistent with law, as are required for the due administration of justice.
The Supreme Court is a superior constitutional court of record having appellate jurisdiction with final authority to adjudicate all cases and controversies properly brought before it. The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and two Associates Justices. Historically, the Associate Justices are pro tem judges from other jurisdictions, e.g., the United States Ninth Circuit Court, the Republic of Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Canada.
An appeal lies to the Supreme Court as of right from a final decision of the High Court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction; as of right from a final decision of the High Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, but only if the case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation or effect of the Constitution; and at the discretion of the Supreme Court from any final decision of any court. Further, the High Court may remove to the Supreme Court questions arising as to the interpretation or effect of the Constitution.
The High Court is a superior constitutional court of record having general jurisdiction over controversies of law and fact in the Marshall Islands. The High Court consists of a Chief Justice and an Associate Justice. The High Court has original jurisdiction over all cases properly filed with it, appellate jurisdiction over cases originally filed in subordinate courts, and, unless provided by law otherwise, jurisdiction to review the legality of any final decision of a government agency.
The Traditional Rights Court (“TRC”) is a constitutional court of record consisting of three or more judges selected to include a fair representation of all classes of land rights: Iroijlaplap (high chief); where applicable, Iroijedrik (lower chief); Alap (head of commoner/worker clan); and Dri Jerbal (commoner/worker). The jurisdiction of the TRC is limited to questions relating to titles to land rights or other legal interests depending wholly or partly on customary law and traditional practices. The jurisdiction of the TRC may be invoked as of right upon application by a party to a pending judicial proceeding, if the court in which the proceeding is pending certifies that a substantial question has arisen within the jurisdiction of the TRC. Decisions of the TRC are to be given substantial weight, but are not binding unless the certifying court concludes that justice so requires. The Supreme Court has held that this means the certifying court is to review and adopt the decision of the TRC unless that decision is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See Abija v. Bwijmaron, 2 MILR 6, 15 (RMI Sup. Ct. 1994).
The District Court is a statutory court of record. It consists of a Presiding Judge and two Associate Judges. The District Court has original jurisdiction concurrently with the High Court: in all civil cases where the amount claimed or the value of the property involved does not exceed $10,000, except matters vested by the Constitution in the High Court, admiralty and maritime matters, and cases of adjudication of title to land or interest in land (other than the right to immediate possession); provided, however the District Court has jurisdiction to award alimony and support for children in divorce cases and for the children of unmarried parents, regardless of the $10,000 limitation, and to include in any such award land or an interest in land owned by any party to the case; provided, however, that this jurisdiction does not include jurisdiction to adjudicate the validity of a claim to ownership of the land or interest therein. The District Court also has original jurisdiction concurrently with the High Court in all criminal cases involving offenses against any law of the Republic for which the maximum penalty does not exceed a fine of $4,000 or imprisonment for a term of less than three years, or both. Finally, the District Court has appellate jurisdiction to review any decision of a Community Court.
A Community Court is a statutory court of record for a local government area of which there are 24. Each Community Court consists of a Presiding Judge and such number of Associate Judges, if any, as may be appointed. A Community Court has original jurisdiction concurrently with the High Court and the District Court in all civil cases where the amount claimed or the value of the property involved does not exceed $200, except matters vested by the Constitution in the High Court, admiralty and maritime matters, and cases of adjudication of title to land or interest in land (other than the right to immediate possession). A Community Court also has original jurisdiction concurrently with the High Court and the District Court in all criminal cases involving offenses against any law of the Republic for which the maximum penalty does not exceed a fine of $400 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
The Constitution also provides for a Judicial Service Commission (“JSC”) that consists of the following: the Chief Justice of the High Court, as chair; the Attorney-General; and a private citizen selected by the Cabinet. The JSC nominates to Cabinet for appointment judges for the Supreme Court, the High Court, and the TRC and appoints judges to the District Court and the Community Courts. The JSC also may make recommendations to the Nitijela regarding the qualifications of judges.
The Constitution’s framework of governance has through the judiciary continued the common law in effect as the governing law in the Marshall Islands, subject to customary law, traditional practice or constitutional or statutory provisions to the contrary.
CHIEF JUSTICE, HIGH COURT
REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS
Marshall Islands Constitution (“RMI Const.”) Art. VI, Sec. 1(1).
RMI Const. Art. VI, Sec 1(2).
RMI Const. Art. VI, Sec. 2.
RMI Const. Art. VI, Sec. 3.
RMI Const. Art. VI, Sec. 4.
27 MIRC Part IV.
27 MIRC Part V.
RMI Const. Art. VI, Sec. 5.
Likinbod v. Kejlat, 2 MILR 65, 66 (RMI Sup. Ct. 1995).
* For more information on the judicial system in the Marshall Islands see Jean G. Zorn The Republic of the Marshall Islands” in Michael Ntumy South Pacific Legal Systems (University of Hawaii Press, Honululu, 1993) 100.