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Laws of South Pacific Island Nations: Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)

Guide to legal materials for South Pacific Island Nations available at UH Manoa.

Court Structure

Supreme Court

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. 

High Court

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. 

District Courts

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.

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.


Traditional Rights Court

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).

Laws

Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).  The deep blue background represents the Pacific Ocean. The white and orange bands represent the Ratak (Sunrise) and Ralik (Sunset) chains, respectively. The customary symbolism of orange as the color of bravery and white as the color of peace are also recognized. The star represents the cross of Christianity, with each of the 24 points signifying a municipal district of the RMI. The four main points represent the major centers of Majuro, Ebeye, Jaluit and Wotje. From http://www.rmiembassyus.org/Government.htm#constit.

The RMI legal system is a mixed legal system of US and English common law, customary law, and local statutes.