7 Sep 2009

Marshalls customary court seeks judges

1:21 pm on 7 September 2009

Resolution of land and traditional title disputes in the Marshall Islands have ground to a halt as a key customary court has been without judges since early this year.

Following two rejections of judge appointments by the cabinet, the judiciary is again searching for judges to fill the three vacant seats on the Traditional Rights Court.

The court handles land and traditional title disputes, and has not functioned since the beginning of this year, when the terms of the judges expired.

The Traditional Rights Court has been at the forefront of high-profile land and title disputes over the past two years.

Most of the disputes center on land in Majuro and Kwajalein, which is the home of the U.S. Army's missile testing range.

Many involve large amounts of money for land rentals.

In one high-profile title dispute involving control of tens of thousands of dollars in U.S. Army land rental payments, the court ruled against powerful Kwajalein traditional chief and MP Michael Kabua.

It found against his position that a woman could not exercise the title of alab or clan head, in the Ralik Chain, one of the country's two chains of coral atolls.

Mr Kabua strongly criticised the decision when the court ruled a woman was the right person to hold the disputed title.