Somaliland Judicial System - Overview
Somaliland had its own judicial system headed by High Court at Hargeisa until 1960. On independence, as the short lived State of Somaliland, The 1960 Somaliland Constitution re-confirmed the existing Somaliland judicial system but suspended the appeals to the East African Appeal Court.
On the reassertion of its independence in 1991, Somaliland re-built its judicial system fairly soon with the The Somaliland 1993 Charter (Article 21) setting up the Somaliland Supreme Court as the highest court of the land. The court structure which existed prior to the military rule of 1969 and based on the Organisation of the Judiciary Law 1962 (Legislative Decree No 3 of 12 June 1962) was re-established and confirmed by the Somaliland Organisation of the Judiciary Law 1993 (Law No: 41 of 18 August 1993) under the Somaliland 1993 Charter which adopted the pre 1969 laws in preference to the later Somalian Dictatorship era draconian laws. Leaving aside the draconian security laws during the 1969 to 1990 Dictatorship and the decrees which controlled the judiciary, some of which are covered at this (forthcoming) page, the 1962 law was replaced by the 1974 Organisation of the Judiciary Law.
The court structure was re-confirmed in the Somaliland 1997 Interim Constitution and is now set out in ,CHAPTER FOUR of the current Somaliland Constitution. A description of the structure of the current Somaliland courts of law is set out below.
UPDATE April 2008: The Organisation of the Judiciary Law has finally finished the last main stage of its legislative journey on 16 March 2008 when the House of Representatives agreed to accept all the amendments sought by the President. The Bill has now finally come into force. A Presidential Decree No: 337 of 20 April 2008 stated that Article 10 of the Law has come into force, but does not mention the rest of the Law. For a copy of the SOMALILAND ORGANISATION OF THE JUDICIARY LAW (now numbered Law No: 24/2003), as issued by the House of Representatives in 2008, see the Somaliland Organisation of the Judiciary Law. NOTE: The old 2003/8 Law has been REPEALED with effect from March 2020 and is replaced by the new Organisation of the Judiciary Law No. 24/2020 available at this page.
SOMALILAND COURTS OF LAW: An Overview
The current provisions relating to the Somaliland courts of law are found in:
Briefly, the Somaliland courts of law are:
- Courts of first instance, which are the District Courts and the Regional Courts.
- The Appeal Courts which are based in each region.
- The Supreme Court, which is also the Constitutional Court. The Court can also sit, with additional representatives as the High Court of Justice when dealing with impeachment of public officers, other than the President & the Vice-President.
District Courts deal with the following:
1. All claims based on Sharia, which are primarily matters relating family law and succession.
2. Civil litigation concerning suits for amounts up to 3 million SL/= (Somaliland Shillings)
3. Criminal cases punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years or fines up to 3 million SL/=.
The court shall have a Juvenile section and an Enforcement Section.
The Court is presided by a District Judge.
Regional Courts deal with:
1. All civil litigation which does not fall within the jurisdiction of the District Court.
2. All criminal cases which do not fall with the jurisdiction of the District Court.
3. All labour or employment law claims.
4. Any claims arising out of local district council government elections.
The Court is divided into the following sections:
- The Civil Cases Section of the Court deals with all civil claims which are not dealt with by the District Courts and all civil claims in which public bodies are a party.
- The Criminal Cases Section which is divided into two sections:
- The Ordinary Section deals with criminal cases attracting imprisonment of 3 years to 10 years which are heard by a single judge.
- The Assize Section deals with crimes attracting a higher prison sentence and are heard by the President of the Regional Court, a Regional Court Judge and an assessor who has knowledge of Sharia law (Article 7 of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law (60 Arts version).
- The Taxation and Finance Section.
- The Juvenile Section. These cases are heard by the President of the Court.
Regional Appeal Courts deal with all appeals from the District and Regional Courts. Each Appeal Court is divided into:
1. The General Appellate Section
2. The Assize Appellate Section which deals with appeals from the Regional Assize Court, which are heard by the President of the Court, two Appeal Judges and two assessors with knowledge of Sharia Law.
3. The Juvenile Section.
3. The Taxation & Finance Section.
4. The General Appellate Section which deals with all other civil and criminal appeals.
The President of the Appeal Court in each region acts as the head of the judiciary in the region.
(Article 8 of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law)
The Somaliland Supreme Court (and also the Constitutional Court, see below) is the highest judicial organ in the country and consists of the Chairman and at least four judges. The Supreme Court deals with:
1. All appeals from the Appeal Courts.
2. Jurisdictional issues between the courts of the land.
3. Administrative Suits relating to the final decisions of public bodies.
4. Declaration of General election presidential and parliamentary results and decisions on any complaints relating to such elections, and appeals from lower courts’ decisions in respect of complaints relating to local government elections.
5. Review of its own decisions under the relevant Articles of the Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedures (Articles 266 & 238 respectively).
The Supreme Court may sit as a bench of three justices or as a full bench in Assizes appeals important issues (Article 10 of the Organisation of Judiciary Law - 60 Arts version).
The justices of the Supreme Court also constitute the Somaliland Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court sits as a full bench (Article 15 of the Law) and can:
1. Adjudicate on suits from interested parties relating to the constitutionality of the acts and decisions of the Government and the Legislature.
2. Interpret the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the land when these provision are subject of a controversy.
3. Reach decisions on court decisions which are challenged as being contrary to the Constitution.
The justices of the Supreme Court can also sit as the High Court of Justice with additional four representatives elected by the two Houses of Parliament (Article 16 of the Law) . This special court deals with the impeachment of ministers, members of parliament and other specified public officers but not, since 2000, with the impeachment of the President & the Vice-president.
Click here for more information about the SUPREME COURT.
Judges, other than Supreme Court justices, are appointed by the Judicial Commission which was set up under Articles 107 and 108 of the Somaliland Constitution and hold office until their retirement, normally at 65 years of age. The Commission is chaired by the Chairman of the Supreme Court and consists of two other Supreme Court Justices, the Attorney General, two high ranking civil servants (Heads of the Ministry of Justice and the Civil Service Agency) and four members of the public selected once every two years by the two House of Parliament. The Commission also deals with the promotion and, when necessary, the disciplining of judges, the procedures of which are set out in detail in Article 35 to 43 of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law.
Supreme Court justices and Chairman are appointed by the President, in consultation with the Judicial Commission, under Article 105 of the Constitution, but in respect of the Chairman, the appointment must be confirmed at a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament. The President may dismiss the Chairman of the Supreme Court subject to the approval of both Houses.
ARTICLES on the Somaliland Judicial system:
- Federico Battera and Alessandro Campo (2001) "The Evolution and Integration of Different Legal Systems in the Horn of Africa: the Case of Somaliland", Global Jurist Topics: Vol. 1: No. 1, Article 4.
- Somaliland Academy for Peace & Development 2002: The Judicial System in Somaliland - Report of a Workshop.- There have been considerable changes since this study was undertaken but a lot still needs to be done.