The Magistrate’s Court is established under Clause 84 of the Constitution of Tonga. The Magistrate’s Court exercises both civil and criminal jurisdiction. It is the Court of first instance in all criminal cases. For serious criminal cases that must be tried in the Supreme Court a preliminary inquiry is conducted in the Magistrate’s Court and only if it is found that the accused has a case to answer is he/she committed for trial in the Supreme Court.

The Magistrate’s Court has its own general criminal jurisdiction in respect of offences punishable by way of a fine not exceeding $10,000 or a period of less than three years’ imprisonment. In addition, it has an enhanced jurisdiction to hear criminal cases remitted to it by consent of the parties from the Supreme Court where the offences is punishable by way of a fine not exceeding $50,000 or a period of seven years’ imprisonment. There are presently two Magistrates who exercise this enhanced jurisdiction.

The Magistrate’s Court hears civil matters where the amount in dispute does not exceed $10,000. It also has jurisdiction in some family cases, including claims for maintenance under the Maintenance of Deserted Wives Act and the Maintenance of Illegitimate Children Act. It hears almost all applications under the Family Protection Act.

The Magistrate’s Court has four main registries situated in Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu), ‘Ohonua (‘Eua), Pangai (Ha’apai) and Neiafu (Vava’u).

The work of the Magistrate’s Court is broadly divided between five divisions which are as follows:

  1. Criminal (including private prosecutions)
  2. Civil (including revenue matters referred to as civil inland and private inland)
  3. Family
  4. Youth
  5. Infringement (including traffic, traffic general, drunken driver, speeding, tobacco and litter and waste)
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