Solomon Islands gained independence from British rule in 1978. The country has a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, governed by a Prime Minister and National Parliament. There are nine provinces – Central, Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Isabel, Makira-Ulawa, Malaita, Rennell-Bellona, Temotu and Western – all with provincial assemblies, each led by a premier. Provincial Governments are empowered to make laws (referred to as Provincial Ordinances), including laws in relation to forests and environmental issues.
To avoid land being permanently lost to foreign ownership, the Constitution of Solomon Islands provides that only a Solomon Islander or a limited class of people (e.g. companies registered and majority owned by Solomon Islanders) can permanently own land (Art. 110).
Recognition of customary law
Customary laws in Solomon Islands are diverse and vary from place to place. Customary law is recognised as a source of law under the Constitution, although it can be overridden by the Constitution or an Act of Parliament (s. 144; Sch. 3). The details as to how customary law is to be recognised in practice are to be provided by Parliament, although to date there is no legislation in place (the Customs Recognition Act 2000 is not yet in force). The effect of this constitutional provision, together with the Land and Titles Act [Cap. 133], is that customary law forms the basis for land and forest ownership in Solomon Islands.
Reflecting its history as a British colony, the laws of the United Kingdom (including common law) remain in force, unless they are inconsistent with the Constitution, Solomon Islands legislation, customary law or where a court declares them to be “inappropriate to the circumstances of Solomon Islands” (Sch. 3).
Human rights and access to justice
The Constitution protects a range of human rights (Chapter II). Of particular relevance to the development and implementation of REDD+ is the right to the protection of property or any interest or right in property, as well as the right not be unjustly deprived of property without compensation (Arts. 3(c) and 8). These provisions are sufficiently broad to protect the rights of landowners where REDD+ activities may affect their land, forests and carbon rights.
The Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO) is established under the Constitution to provide legal aid, advice and assistance to persons in need (Art. 92). The Landowners’ Advocacy and Legal Support Unit (LALSU) within the PSO provides free legal advice, education and representation to customary landowners on issues regarding land, conservation and the sustainable management of resources including forestry.