The Judiciary is the third arm of the Government of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. The high Courts of the Judiciary comprise the Supreme and National Courts whose core function is to hear and dispose of cases that come before them. Easy access to judicial services by the people at all levels of the community is one of the Judiciary’s main mission statements stated in the Judiciary’s Corporate Plan 2006 – 2010 and the Judiciary’s Corporate Plan 2011-2015. The Judiciary’s Corporate Plan is designed to operate within and to give effect to the governments planning priorities as set out in Vision 2050 and Medium Term Plans to bring effective service delivery to all levels of the community.
A key objective of this mission statement is the enhancement of Courts’ capacity in terms of judicial manpower and court facilities in the nation’s capital Waigani and expansion of the National Court to the provinces and districts.
The Judiciary’s Corporate Plan lists many enhancements to improve judicial services in Papua New Guinea. With regard to Judicial strengthening, the Judiciary has increased its total Judge strength from 21 Judges in 2006 to 30 in 2012 and is set to increase further to 40 by 2015. More than half of the Judges are currently based in the provinces and that proportion is set to increase by 2015. Since 2006 the National Court has been operating in seven (7) provinces outside Waigani and these are in Lae, Mt Hagen, Kokopo, Goroka, Madang, Kimbe and Wabag. By 2012, four new National Courts have been opened - Kundiawa, Mendi, Wewak and Alotau. Preparations are underway for three new National Court establishments to be opened in 2013 - Kavieng, Buka and Tari. Other provinces will be considered for resident Judges under the 2016- 2020 Corporate Plan. In the meantime, those Provinces that do not have resident Judges are catered for under the Judiciary’s sub-registry rollout program under which court cases can be filed in those registries and dealt with by circuit Judges. Those locations are Popondetta, Kerema, Daru, Minj, Kainantu, Vanimo and Lorengau.
Two major components of the institutional strengthening and expansion program are the Judiciary’s 21st Century Court Structure Reform Program and Court Facilities Development Program 2008 - 2015. In 2010 the Judiciary completed its 21st Century Court Structure Reform Report. The report was submitted to the government in 2010 and due to inactivity on it, re-submitted in 2012. Under the reform proposal, the Supreme Court is to be separated from the National Court and an intermediate appellate court to be known as the Court of Appeal is to be introduced. The Supreme Court will be served by 7 full time Judges, the Court of Appeal by 11 full time judges (or drawn from the pool of National Court Judges) and the National Court by 50 full time Judges. Under the Facilities Development Program, planning is well advanced for a new court complex for Waigani to serve as the headquarters for the three high courts. Planning is underway for new regional Court complexes for Lae, Kokopo, Wewak and Madang. One stop Court complexes to house the District Courts and National Courts have been built for Buka, Manus and Tari. Construction of a new one stop court complex for Alotau is nearing completion. Extension and upgrading of court houses is underway in Waigani, Madang, Mt Hagen, Kimbe, Kavieng, Wewak and Mendi.
A new building has been constructed in Waigani to provide better court reporting services and a new building has also been constructed to accommodate the Corporate Services Division of the Judiciary saving large outlays for rent.
Regular and routine maintenance of buildings is on-going to bring them to an acceptable standard right across the country. Improvements have also been made to Judges houses and a program for staff housing will be undertaken commencing in 2013.
The PNG-Australia Law and Justice Partnership has provided funding for many of these service and facility enhancements and the Judiciary is appreciative of its contribution and support.
Additional staff have been employed to support the increase in the number of Judges and to provide staff for the sub-registry expansion.
Judges and support personnel will receive professional development through the Centre for Judicial Excellence which has been established in 2010 for the purpose of satisfying our local needs. The Centre for Judicial Excellence will also be able to offer services to other Judiciary’s in neighbouring Pacific Island Countries should they wish to participate. Work attachments and secondments are proceeding with Australian jurisdictions.
Significant investment with regards to money and personnel has been made over the last couple of years to improve Judicial Services to the people of Papua New Guinea. I hope this article informs you, the people, of some of the work being undertaken in the high Courts of the Judiciary throughout the country.
Sir Salamo Injia Kt.
Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea