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Land Tribunal on halt
Minister of Justice Ralph Regenvanu yesterday announced a halt to the work of the Land Tribunal as regards any new deliberations or judgments.
The stop began on Friday and does not affect any cases presently before the Tribunal, by ministerial order.
The main reason for the interruption is to begin to give effect to some of the resolutions of the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs in their recent Customary Lands Workshop.
There are nineteen resolutions and they were listed in Daily Post on 10 September.
The resolutions are intended to strengthen custom governance, especially in the area where they are of the utmost importance- land matters.
A further reason for the halt is to enable a review of the Custom Lands Tribunal legislation, which has been with governments since 2009, to be considered by those involved, whether through a customary role or under the country’s judiciary.
Minister Regenvanu told a press conference yesterday that the review had, indeed, seen many areas needing amendment to ensure that power in lands matters goes back to the customary authorities and village courts, as required by the country’s Constitution: the rules of custom shall form the basis of both ownership and use of land in the Republic.
Draft legislation following the review is actually ready.
“Big injustices have been seen in the existing system,” stated Minister Regenvanu, “and some have involved chiefly bias.
“There have been lengthy delays, even up to seven years.
“Certain cases have been solved, only to be re-opened, and the involvement of lawyers has at certain times been complicating and at others threatening.”
Chief Gratien Alguet announced his determination to see the changes needed in village justice in effect soon.
“We must be certain of the village foundations of custom governance,” he said.
Coordinator of the Land Tribunal, Alicta Vuti, promised urgent amendments to the legislation would be available for the November sitting of Parliament.
He also said that a significant departure from the present arrangements would likely see island tribunals having an officer in each province rather than all matters being expedited by Port Vila.
In the country’s former condominium system it took 20 years for the first land case to be heard in the Joint Court.
Since Independence a backlog of land cases before the courts has grown significantly. All concerned with the legislative changes essential at this time are determined that the objectives required will be met with all available speed.