Although Kiribati is very much a developing country, Robin Millhouse QC, chief justice of the High Court of Kiribati, believes the tiny nation is "one of the most fortunate countries" in the world in terms of its social security.
The Kiribati government appointed Millhouse, an Australia-trained lawyer, as chief justice of the country's High Court at the end of 1999.
Millhouse, who attended the opening ceremony of the Taiwan-ese embassy in Kiribati on Jan. 9, said it is very difficult for Kiribati to train local lawyers.
"Kiribati's population is too small to support professional people like doctors or lawyers," Millhouse said. People interested in pursuing these professional careers have to go abroad to be educated, he added.
As Kiribati was a British colony until 1979, the British introduced their legal system into the country, the 74-year-old chief justice said.
Kiribati's legal system, therefore, is the same as Australia's, England's, Canada's, New Zealand's and a number of other Commonwealth countries. Millhouse said he did not find it difficult to get familiar with the Kiribati legal system.
Kiribati's outer islands usually do not have lawyers or qualified judges, so it is the court magistrates who deal with common cases in these places.
Millhouse, who deals with more important crimes and the bigger civil matters, makes the occasional visit to the outer islands.
Kiribati has a court of appeal, which consists of three judges.
"They come here by invitation to form the courts," Millhouse said.
Over the past couple of years, the judges came mostly from New Zealand, Australia, the UK or Canada because the law is the same, according to Millhouse.
Millhouse, now in his third term as chief justice of Kiribati's High Court, said only one judge was a local man.
Saying that he hoped more Kiribati people could be trained in New Zealand or Australia to be lawyers, Millhouse said there is now a law school for the Pacific nations in Vanuatu.
The education in the Vanuatu law school is completely in English and the books that the students read are also in English, Millhouse said.
Kiribati has no capital punishment. Its heaviest penalty is life imprisonment.
"There are some prisons on the outer islands built by the British, but they are not used very much," Millhouse said.
Millhouse said he did know the crime rate in Kiribati, but that most of the time he had enough cases to keep him occupied.
Policemen in Kiribati, Millhouse said, do not carry guns. They rarely encountered resistance in arresting criminals, unless the people were intoxicated, the judge said.
"I have sentenced somebody to a term of imprisonment, and he stood up in the dock and said `thank you,'" Millhouse said.
Samuel Chen (陳士良), Taiwan's ambassador to Kiribati, said the Kiribati people's religion might contribute to their peaceful society. People in the country are predominately Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, according to the ambassador.