Magistrates of the District Courts of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is nation founded on the rule of law. The Papua New Guinea National Judicial System that administers or upholds the rule of law, comprises of the Superior Courts called the National and Supreme Courts and the inferior courts known as the District Courts.
Magistrates and Judges play a very important role in our judicial system. While judges perform their various responsibilities in the superior courts, magistrates likewise do their part in the inferior courts.

Who are Magistrates
Magistrates are appointed legal professionals and by virtue of this appointment have judicial power who perform judicial functions in the district courts.
Judicial Power of a Magistrate
The word judicial means to be fair and just in decision making and other matters. The judicial power of a magistrate is conferred on him/her by the constitution and various legislations of Papua New Guinea.

What magistrates do?
Magistrates sit mainly in the provincial District Courts which are part of Papua New Guinea’s National Judicial System. Other courts and inquiries usually presided over by Magistrates include

  • Local Land Court Hearings Provincial Land Court Hearings
  • Juvenile Courts
  • Coroner’s hearing
  • Correctional Services Appeal Tribunals
  • Defence Force Courts.
  • Leadership Tribunal Hearings (two magistrates assists a judge)
  • Local-level Government Election Disputes
  • Visiting Magistrates to Correctional institute of Lock-ups.

Qualifications for appointment as Magistrates.
The Judicial and Legal Services Commission established by section 183 of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea is the body responsible for appointing Magistrates.

Generally, in order to be appointed a magistrate, a person must be a holder of a law degree from a law school, whether within or outside Papua New Guinea and that the law degree and law school is recognized by the commission and has practiced law for a number of years.
Qualifications for appointment as Grade V Magistrate (Principal Magistrates).
Both citizens and non-citizens of Papua New Guinea can be appointed as Grade V Magistrates.
A citizen is qualified for appointment as Grade V Magistrate if he/she graduated from a school whether within or outside Papua New Guinea and holds a degree in law recognized by the commission. The citizen must have also practiced law for not less than four (4) years.

A non-citizen who is a lawyer and practicing or who has practiced as a lawyer in Papua New Guinea or a country the commission is of the opinion has a legal system similar to that of Papua new Guinea for a period not less than five (5) years can be appointed as a Grade V Magistrate.
Categories of Magistrates
There are presently two principal categories of magistrates that affect their jurisdiction to sit as a District Court. Grade V Magistrates (Principal Magistrates) are higher grade magistrates while Grade IV Magistrates are of lower grade.

Jurisdictions of a Grade V (Principal Magistrate)

A Grade V magistrate may sit in cases with monetary value in excess of K8, 000.00 but not more than K10, 000.00 in the civil jurisdiction.

In an appeal against a land court decision only a Grade V magistrate may hear the appeal.

A Grade Five magistrate may also be able to try indictable offences triable summarily or commit a person to stand trial in the National Court under Schedule II Offences of the Criminal Code Act of Papua New Guinea.

Jurisdiction of a Grade IV Magistrate

A Grade IV magistrate may sit to hear cases that do not exceed K8, 000.00 in monetary value. The Grade IV magistrate may also try other criminal offences summarily and other matters that each enabling legislation may authorize.

A coroner is a magistrate with special training for this jurisdiction. A coroner does not adjudicate a coronial case but makes investigations to ascertain the cause or other wise of an incident.
Defence Force Magistrates
A Defence Force Judge is a Judge of the National and Supreme Court who is appointed by the National Executive Council in consultation with the Chief Justice. The Defence Force Judge in consultation with the Chief Justice then appoints serving and only Grade Five or Principal Magistrates of the District Court as Defence Force Magistrates. The Defence Force Magistrate has and may exercise and perform, in any part of the world directed by the Defence Force Judge, the jurisdictions, powers and functions of Principal Magistrates in relation to persons subject to the Code of Military Discipline.
Correctional Services Appeal Tribunal
The Minister of the Correctional Services from time to time by notice in the Correctional Service Gazette establish a Correctional Appeals Tribunal consisting of a Magistrate nominated by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. The tribunal hears appeals by service member of the Correctional Service in relation to and a decision of the Commanding Officer or the Disciplinary Board and may confirm or annul the decision or make other recommendation as stipulated in the relevant sections of the Correctional Services Act.
Visiting Magistrates
The Judicial and Legal Services Commission appoints A Visiting Magistrate for each correctional institution or lock-up. The Visiting Magistrate shall, in respect of the correctional institution for which he is appointed

  • Inquire into the treatment and conduct of the detainees; and
  • Inspect and observe the correctional facilities and programmes; and
  • Hear any complaints made to him by members; and
  • Review the document to commitment of every detainee received into the correctional institute since the last visit of a Visiting Magistrate for apparent error or excess and to assist a detainee in the initiation of a review if appropriate; and
  • Hear and determine appeals by prisoners of penalties imposed on them by the Commanding Officer
  • Inquire into other matters as he thinks fit or as the commissioner directs and
  • Perform other duties as are prescribed

Enforcement of Village Courts Orders
Certain village courts orders need the endorsement of a Magistrate to be of force or effect. The Magistrate to whom the order is presented for endorsement will only endorse the order if he/she is of the opinion that the village court acted within its jurisdictions and that the order is not excessive. The Magistrate will not endorse the order if he or she is of the opinion that the village court acted outside its jurisdiction and that the order or penalty is excessive. The orders the need a magistrates’ endorsement before in is effective include Community work orders ; orders to pay compensation; orders to pay orders; orders to pay debt and orders to pay a fine

Special note on Village Courts magistrates and the Village Courts system. Village Courts magistrates are not members of the magistracy. They persons appointed on the basis of their standing in their community and knowledge of their customs among other things. They do not have or need legal training and they use customary laws to settle disputes in their communities. The Village Courts are not part of the formal judicial system of Papua New Guinea. These types of courts are informal. The Village Courts Secretariat administers resources given to it by the government for the effective and efficient functioning of the village courts. The Secretariat is itself a part of the Department of Justice and Attorney General.
At present there are only about one hundred [100] serving magistrates for 70 District Courts locations and 400 circuit locations and covering 14 jurisdictions. The Magisterial Services continues to pursue the recruitment of Magistrates annually to cater for the great need for District Court services which is the court service that is accessible to most citizens in Papua New Guinea.

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