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Death of experienced judges strains overloaded system

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 14, 2009 ) – There are fears that the country may be headed for a disaster unless immediate action is taken to ensure the third arm of Government, the judiciary, is sufficiently equipped to address the legal requirements of our people.

With the recent deaths of some of the country’s judges, there is fear that the judiciary’s current capacity is not able to deal with the thousands of cases that go before it each year.

National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop said immediate action was required to ensure the judiciary was not allowed to deteriorate to a state where "we will have serious problems in our country".

"The judicial service is a key institution of our country, serving our people.

"If that institution is allowed to deteriorate, we will have serious problems," he told Parliament yesterday.

In a series of questions put to Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat yesterday, Mr. Parkop asked what the judiciary had in place to relieve judges of the enormous work pressure they were under.

He said the recent deaths of senior judges highlighted the plight of the judiciary and the stress that judges underwent on a daily basis to ensure justice prevailed.

Dr Marat could not agree more, pointing out that while there was a lot of work still to be done, his office had already embarked on a number of initiatives he hoped would improve the current output of the judiciary.

He agreed that there was too much cases going through the National and Supreme courts that could be addressed by respective appeal tribunals and the Village and Land courts and assured Parkop and Parliament that his office was doing everything in its jurisdiction to ensure justice prevailed.

High on the agenda, according to Dr Marat, is the recruitment of more judges as well as an increase in the jurisdiction of the District Court.

"There is a proposal currently before us to increase the number of judge from the current 28 to about 40, however, that proposal still needs to go before the National Executive Council and Parliament," Dr Marat said.

"Recruiting judges is not as easy as it seems.

"Although there is a lot of capable Papua New Guinean lawyers in the private sector who are ideal candidates, they are not willing to move because they are well looked after," he said.

He also said his office had considered the option to recruit judges from outside the country; however, they had not been successful in doing that with the amount of negative publicity that the media had painted of the country.

But he was hopeful that work on the current proposal to increase the jurisdiction of the District Court could be completed quickly and brought before Cabinet and Parliament for endorsement and implementation.

The proposal states that current District Court jurisdiction be increased from K10,000 [US$3, 700] to K50,000 [US$18, 600] , with District Court magistrates presiding over cases up to K15,000 and principal magistrates and the chief magistrate presiding over cases between K15,000 and K50,000.

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