The Judiciary is the third branch of government in the Cook Islands.
- is an independent body which is responsible for interpreting and applying the laws made by the Cook Islands Parliament;
- develops and interprets case law; and
- solves disputes of fact and law between individuals, and between individuals and the State.
The Cook Islands Court System
Three types of Courts have jurisdiction in the Cook Islands:
- the High Court;
- the Court of Appeal; and
- the Sovereign in Council (the Privy Council in England).
The High Court
The High Court of the Cook Islands is a Court of record and has original jurisdiction to hear all criminal, civil and land matters as is necessary to administer the law in force in the Cook Islands.
The High Court is divided in to four divisions:
- Criminal division;
- Civil division;
- Land division; and
- Children's Court.
The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal of the Cook Islands is a superior Court of record and was created in 1981 amendments to the Constitution.
The Court of Appeal sits as a panel of three Judges. Appeals are decided by a majority vote of the panel. However, the Judge who heard and determined the case in the High Court cannot sit on the panel of Judges hearing the appeal as the Court of Appeal.
Most of the sittings of the Court of Appeal are in New Zealand.
The Sovereign in Council (Privy Council)
There is a right of appeal from decisions of the Court of Appeal to Her Majesty the Queen in Council:
- with leave of the Court of Appeal; or
- with leave of Her Majesty the Queen in Council, if leave is refused by the Court of Appeal; and
- in such cases and subject to such conditions as are prescribed by the relevant Act: Article 59(2) Constitution.
Language of the Court
The Te Reo Maori Act 2003 specifies that there are two official languages of the Cook Islands: English and Maori.
Although no provision has been enacted which provides that Court proceedings must be conducted in English or Maori, the practice has been that the defendant may choose which language he or she would like the trial to be conducted in.
In addition, Article 65(1)(d) of the Constitution provides for the right not to be deprived of a fair hearing. In order of a fair hearing to take place, a defendant must understand the proceedings against him or her. This requires that the proceedings be conducted in a language that the defendant understands, or that an interpreter is supplied for the defendant.