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Somaliland Judicial System

Somaliland had its own judicial system headed by  High Court at Hargeisa until 1960.  The 1960 Somaliland Constitution re-confirmed the existing 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). The court structure was re-confirmed in the 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.

The 2003  Somaliland Organisation of the Judiciary Bill (Law No: 24/2003)  which proposed to  consolidate the existing provisions  was initially  approved by both Houses (on 21/12/2003 by the House of Representatives and on 15/02/2004 by the House of elders) but  was  returned by the President to the Houses to re-consider the then Article 10(2) of the Bill  which related to the appointment of Supreme Court judges. The President said that the Article did not conform to Article  105 of the Constitution.  The difference was that the Article stated that the President shall consult the Supreme Court Chairman about such appointments whilst the Constitution says that he shall consult the Judicial Commission, which is incidentally chaired by the Supreme Court Chairman.  The House of Elders in passing this Bill in 2004  also made an amendment to Article 21 and proposed to raised the minimum age of judges to 35.

The Bill has since been further amended by the House of Representatives who passed it again on 13 July 2006. The Bill is now awaiting approval by the House of Elders and the President. As it is mainly a consolidation law, almost all of its provisions are already in force. 

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. As the President has not rejected the whole Law and all his objections have now been accepted by the House, then, under Article 77(6) of the Constitution, the House of Representatives can promulgate the Law, which they have now done, and have published it on their website. For a copy of the SOMALILAND ORGANISATION OF THE JUDICIARY LAW (now numbered Law No: 24/03&06), as issued by the House of Representatives in 2008, CLICK HERE (in Somali with an English introduction)

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.




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. The General Section of the Court deals with crimes punishable by imprisonment for periods between 3 and 10 years which are heard by a Regional Judge.  The Assize Section deals with crimes attracting a higher prison sentence and are heard by a Regional Judge and an assessor who has knowledge of the Sharia or of law.   (Article 7 of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law). The panel of assessors is compiled every year by the Ministry of Justice (Article 38  of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law).

3. All labour or employment law claims.

4. Any claims arising out of local government elections.

The Court is organised along four branches – civil, criminal, finance & taxation and Juvenile. The President of the Regional Court hears Juvenile cases, which come under the jurisdiction of the Regional Court.


Appeal Courts deal with all appeals from the District and Regional CourtsEach Appeal Court  is divided into:

1. The Assize Appellate Section which deals with appeals from the Regional Assize Court, which are heard by two Appeal Judges and two assessors.

2. The Juvenile Section.

3. The Finance & Taxation 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 Constitutional Court) 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 compliants relating to local governemnt elctions.

5. Review of its own decisions under the relavant 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 important issues or on issues set out in Article 10(4) of the Organisation of Judiciary Law (e.g appeals relating to elections issues, cases from the Assize section of the Appeal Courts etc). Under Article 12 of the same Law the Supreme Court shall have the following sections:

1. Civil section.

2. Criminal section.

3. Juvenile crime section.

4. Administrative section.

5. Reseach & legal interpretation section.


The justices of the Supreme Court also constitute the Somaliland  Constitutional Court.  The Constitutional Court sits as a full bench and can:

1. Adjudicate on  suits 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 cahllenged 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.  The 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.


Article 2 of the Organisation of the Judiciary Law, (Law No: 24/2003) re-confirms the independence of the judiciary, which is set out in the Constitution (see Articles 97(2) and 99(2)).  The Law also makes it clear that special courts outside the courts of law set under the Constitution can NOT be established in Somaliland and no committees with judicial powers or acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and issuing criminal punishment can exist in the country (Article 2(3) & 2(4)). Individuals can, however, by agreement of both parties to a dispute, use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms through their appointed mediation panels (Article 2(5)).  This simply confirms the traditional methods of settling disputes.


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 40 to 46 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, under Article 105(2)  may dismiss the Chairman of the Supreme Court subject to the approval of both Houses. 


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