1.  Establishment, Functions and Operations

1.1  The Office of the Solicitor General is established under Section 10 of the Attorney General's Act 1989.  Its functions are spelt out under Section 13 of the Act and the Duty Statement. The Primary Function is to appear as advocate for the State in all claims by and against the State coming before the Courts in Papua New Guinea both within and outside. With regard to claims by and against the State, the procedures for making a claim against the State are outlined under Section 5 of the Claims By and Against the State Act 1996

1.2  The Office came into being on the 1st April 1992. On that date the Solicitor General assumed responsibility over all litigation work, which until then was the responsibility of the State Solicitor.

2.  Core Services

2.1    To appear as an Advocate of the State in all litigation matters coming before all levels of courts, tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies.

3.    Location of Office of the Solicitor General

3.1    Although there have been plans to open Branch Offices in Regional Centers, this has not been possible because of financial constraints.  The Regional Offices are now established in Mt Hagen, Wabag, Lae and Kokopo.

3.2    Officers travel to and from Port Moresby to do both District and National Court cases arising in other centers throughout the country.

4.    Staff and Office Structure/Establishment

4.1    The approved office establishment is a total of ninety (90) which includes the lawyers and support staff. The office is currently operating with only fifty-two (52) staff in total (both lawyers and support staff).


5.    Nature of work and office administration

5.1    In lines with its statutory functions the office of the Solicitor General is currently handling all claims by and against the State that are instituted in all jurisdictions of the Courts.

5.2    Such claims range from breach of contract, wrongful dismissal and personal injury, Judicial Review of administrative actions and decisions, Workers Compensation claims, motor vehicle recovery actions and other tortuous claims, and Constitutional challenges.

5.3    For purposes of improving efficiency and work standards, a computer file Register system has been created whereby all files are registered under separate file series depending on the type of claim. This means that all incoming and litigation files are registered before they are allocated to individual officers.

5.4    Individual officers have files given to them entered against them in the computer. At the end of each month a file review is conducted whereby each officer is required to report on the progress or status of each matter they have carriage of. The purpose of the review is three fold: -

(i)    To ascertain whether the officer is making progress towards completing the matter;

(ii)    To identify difficulties being encountered by each officer in handling the files allocated to them; and

(iii)    To provide a considered approach to an amicable solution to contentious issues.

5.5    So far the system appears to be working well although improvements are needed in various areas. The system will be reviewed from time to time.

6.    Accountabilities

6.1    Responsible in ensuring that the State and all its agencies are adequately represented in all litigation matters coming before all levels of courts, tribunals and other quasi-judicial and statutory bodies.

6.2    Take necessary action to ensure that an efficient and effective service is provided to the State.

6.3    Maintain constant liaison and provide advice to all State bodies, departmental heads and Minister on matters affecting their departments.

6.4    Liaise with and provide advice to the Attorney General and Secretary for Justice on all major litigation matters and other litigation matters affecting the State.

6.5    Certify and advice the Secretary for Finance on satisfaction of Judgments debts against the State.

6.6    Consultation with the Attorney General, on matters brief outs and engagement of barristers and solicitors to act for the State in major litigation matters.

6.7    Oversee and manage all cases and files on the electronic case management system.

7.    Reporting and working relationship– Internal

•    Reporting to the Secretary for Justice.

•    Reporting to the Attorney General.
•    Liaise with Heads of Governments, Ministers and other heads of statutory bodies on litigation matters affecting their departments.
•    Liaise with Deputy Solicitor Generals – Headquarters and OICs for the branch offices.


8.    Working Relationship – External

•    Provide advice to Minister for Justice and other government Ministers on court matters affecting their departments.
•    Brief heads of government departmental heads and statutory bodies on all litigation matters affecting their departments.
•    Brief and liaise with independent Counsel who is engaged to act on behalf of the State.

9.    Claims Against the State

9.1    Pursuant to Section 5 of the Claims By and Against the State Act 1996, it is a requirement that a person intending to make a claim against the State must give “Notice of his intention to make a claim against the State” to the Departmental Head responsible for Justice matters or the Solicitor General or their secretary personally within six (6) months after the occurrence out of which the claim arose.
9.2    If no such “Notice” is given, then under Section 5 (1) of the Claims By and Against the State Act 1996, a person runs the risk of having their claim against the State being dismissed for failure to give the Section 5 Notice.

9.3    However, there is avenue available for an extension of time to give Section 5 Notice, should there be sufficient cause being shown to the Principal Legal Adviser (Departmental Head responsible for Justice matters) or the court before which the action is instituted for the delay in the giving of Section 5 Notice.

10.    Volume of Work

10.1    Records of Claims Against the State

There are presently over 8,827 claims registered in the Office of the Solicitor General the value of these claims ranges from an amount of K5, 000 in the District Court to K30 million in the National Court of Papua New Guinea. The accumulated value of these claims can be best put in excess of K400 million. Of these 5,500 files, it is estimated that an officer has carriage of about 300 files each.
    
10.2    The majority of the registered claims are from the Highlands Region.  Approximately, 3 quarters of those claims involve the police.  Police raids on villages, looting and destruction of property and food gardens, assault, brutality and breach of Constitutional rights are the common allegations against the police.

10.3    Workers Compensation claims

Workers Compensation claim arise where a Worker receives injuries or dies in the course of his duties or in connection with his duties. The Workers Compensation Tribunal hears the claims.  Two lawyers from the Solicitor General's Office have carriage of Workers Compensation files.  This is in addition to their workload of other litigation files. There are about 298 workers compensation files pending settlement.

10.4    Land Titles Commission Awards

The awards by the Land Titles Commission have increased dramatically in the last 18 months and so far, over 100 claims have been registered and the value of the awards has increased drastically.

11.    Payments made on Judgment debts and Claims against the State

11.1    Overall, the Finance Department has paid some K56 million in the last 12 months to satisfy judgment debts and settlements out of Court.

11.2    It is estimated that claims valued at some K550 million are still pending settlement or ready to go for a trial before the Courts.

12.    Constraints

12.1    Claims against Police

The single biggest problem that the office faces with regard to these claims is that police (the biggest client Department) often does not provide the necessary instructions in time or at all for the State to defend the State in claims against the Police.  As a consequence default judgments are taken out against the State in default of filing a Defence to the Statement of Claim.  If the office receives some form of instructions from the police, default judgments could be avoided.  Often the amounts awarded by way of default judgment are substantial.  It should be noted here that other Government Departments are also to be blamed for failure to provide sufficient instructions to enable the Office of the Solicitor General to defend proceedings against the State.

12.2    This situation is most unsatisfactory and is certainly not in the best interest of the State.  There must be an improvement in this area to enable an ongoing dialogue and consultation between Government Departments and the Office of the Solicitor General.  

12.3    All in all, the office is now capably defending many of such claims.

12.4    Over the past 12 months the Department of Finance has paid substantial amounts in damages against the State and it is our hope that with increased manpower and funding, co-operation between key personnel between Government Departments and the Office of the Solicitor General, the amount of damages will be reduced.

13.    Funding Problems

13.1    Funding and logistics continue to be the main obstacles preventing lawyers from efficiently defending claims against the State especially in Provinces.  Notwithstanding that the Office has successfully defended many claims worth millions of kina using available resources.

14.    Regional Offices

14.1    Branch offices are now opened in Wabag, Mt Hagen, Lae and Kokopo. Plans are now in place  to  open offices in Goroka and Madang offices.

15.    Recovery Actions

15.1    The Office is now in the process of taking enforcement and recovery actions against citizens, leaders and corporate institutions that continue to breach the laws of PNG and who owe the State huge sums of money. Such actions will compliment the work of other institutions like the Ombudsman Commission.

15.2    Consultations and discussions are continuing between key Government departments like Police, Auditor General, Ombudsman Commission, Parliamentary Accounts Committee, Public Prosecutor and the Department of Treasury but for now, no actions have been instituted.  

16.    Conclusion

16.1    Although the office of Solicitor General is presently facing manpower and logistical problems, the lawyers have been very successful in defending many claims against the State worth millions of kina using available manpower and resources.  The State liability, financially, has therefore been at a high manageable level.

Solicitor General Contact

Level 7, 6 & 5 Sir Buri Kidu Haus 
Level 7 Phone: 301 2901 Fax: 325 9895
Level 6 Phone: 301 2916 Fax: 325 2193
Level 5
Phone: 301 2933/301 2947
Fax: 325 9898
Email: SolGen@justice.gov.pg

Solicitor General

Faith Barton-Keene

 FBK2017

From West Sepik Province

Graduated with a Master of Laws Degree (LLM) from the University of Queensland and a Bachelor of Law Degree from the University of PNG.