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Parliament, Kiribati

Strengthening the capacity of the High Court of Kiribati

This project aims to strengthen the capacity of the High Court of Kiribati, including in the improving of the operational effectiveness of the court system.
Country: Kiribati
Host: High Court of Kiribati
Start date: 22/05/2014
End date: 21/05/2017
Policy area: Rule of Law
Policy expert: Mark Guthrie
Project manager: Joel Burman

Prior to this project the High Court of Kiribati was comprised only of the Chief Justice and the Commissioner of the High Court (who is also the Chief Registrar). There are two court houses for the High Court, one of which is used by the Court of Appeal when sitting and by magistrates at any other time. With 33 islands and a population of about 107,000 people stretching over an area of 1.3 million square miles, Kiribati’s need for adequate manpower to serve in its High judiciary is very real. In recent years the number of cases in civil, criminal and land has risen significantly, demonstrating the need for additional judges in order to contain the increase in cases and to reduce the backlog of cases.

There are 150 magistrates in Kiribati sitting across the 21 courts of the islands of Kiribati. As there is no Chief Magistrate, the role of support to the magistrates falls to the Chief Registrar.  Limited training of magistrates and the non-existence of qualified legal support for lay magistrates, has led to severe challenges in the effective and timely hearing of cases. Improving case management as well as core skills in areas such as: The rules of evidence; Matrimonial property; and Inheritance matters, are increasingly important challenges.

The need assessment mission also identified other key challenges facing the Judiciary in Kiribati, including the High Court. Specifically, the High Court still applies the 1964 Western Pacific High Court Civil Procedure Rules which were used during the colonial era. “There is a desperate need to update these.”


This project aims to strengthen the capacity of the High Court of Kiribati, through the provision of a Judge for a period of three years. This support will directly address the hearing and appropriate disposing of the backlog of cases in High Court. Furthermore, the Project will increased the efficiency (speed and accuracy) of court proceedings and case management, with relevant training for judicial officers. Finally, it is expected that the project will also deliver proposed revisions to Civil Procedure Rules, accompanied by corresponding implementation support for the new Rules and Procedures. This project will ultimately further enable the High Court to deliver an effective, efficient and independent judicial service according to international standards of compliance and performance.


A Judge has been provided for three years to support the High Court of Kiribati. This has resulted in a new way of opening criminal cases, as well as clearing the case backlog. The backlog however remains a challenge particularly in civil and land matters. The introduction of Fast Tracking of cases has also clarified and sped-up legal processes. Conducting hearings by way of sessions has improved the operational effectiveness of the Court, contributing to a sustainable reduction in the backlog of criminal cases.

The immediate beneficiaries will include legal practitioner, litigants, court registries and court staff who will collectively benefit from professional training, more effective case management practices, and improved collaboration among judicial colleagues. Ultimately, all court users and the wider people of Kiribati will benefit from the more effective administration and delivery of justice, new Civil Procedure Rules, this will also contribute to greater social, political and economic stability.

  • A total of 484 civil, land matters, and criminal cases and applications have been disposed of to date.
  • Only 22 criminal cases of original backlog are pending with case backlogs for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (excl. caused listed cases) now cleared.
  • The continuing use of Fast Tracking of cases and hearings by way of sessions has also clarified and sped up legal processes. Following the introduction of Fast Tracking of cases many lawyers are now more aware of the timeframes for next steps in court. For instance, when a defendant defaults in filing the defence, the claimant lawyer applies for default judgment within two or three days thereafter.
  • Conducting hearings by way of sessions appears to have improved the operational effectiveness of the Court.
  • The Prosecution has quickly adjusted to criminal session system and despite the fact there are only two State Attorneys for the Prosecution, there has been no frustration in the conduct of the cases. Backlog in criminal has been drastically reduced.
  • The project also delivered new High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules after a detailed process of consultation and drafting, which will replace the colonial-era 1964 Rules.