Get to Know Another Country’s Judiciary: Papua New Guinea

Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy
Legal System: A mixed system of common law and customary law

Supreme Court – final court of appeal, also has original jurisdiction over interpretation of constitutional provisions. The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice, the deputy Chief Justice and all 42 judges of the National Court. The court seats a rotating group of 3 to 5 judges at a time with the most senior judge presiding.

National Court – unlimited jurisdiction to hear and decide any criminal and civil matters; consists of 42 judges plus the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.

District Courts – located in all provincial centers and most district centers; a magistrate presides.

Village Court – as the name suggests, jurisdiction is limited to the village. The courts settle disputes and enforce local government rules. Village courts provide access to the legal system to rural populations in their own languages and, when appropriate, in accordance with local custom. For example, a wife was granted a divorce due to domestic abuse and not required to pay back her dowry. As compensation for this judgment, the husband’s clan was given custody of the child.

How does one become a judge in Papua New Guinea?

It varies. At the low end, Village Court Magistrates, who come from the local community, often lack a law degree but are familiar with local customs. Supreme Court justices must already be on the National Court, which requires four to five years of experience as a lawyer or a judge of a lower court.

This is interesting…

Sorcery is still an issue in some remote areas. The Sorcery Act of 1971 formally criminalized both the practice of sorcery and false accusations of sorcery. A murder defendant could legitimately argue in court that the deceased was a sorcerer and had it coming. These provisions were repealed in 2013, but Village Courts still have to deal with instances of vigilante mobs attacking suspected sorcerers.

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