Finding the Law in Seychelles


By Jessica Kerr


Published January/February 2015


Jessica Kerr is a lawyer who moved from New Zealand to Seychelles in 2013 to work in the Judiciary with former Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende. She holds a BA/LLB(Hons) from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and an LLM from Yale University, and was admitted to the New Zealand bar in 2007. She spent a year and a half with the Judiciary of Seychelles before moving to her current position in the Central Bank. She sits on the Board of the Seychelles Legal Information Institute (SeyLII).


The opening sections of this note draw (with permission from the author, Mathilda Twomey, Justice of the Seychelles Court of Appeal) on 'The Republic of Seychelles: Introductory Note' in Wolfrum, Grote and de Wet (eds), Constitutions of the World (Oxford University Press, 2013).


Table of Contents









Human rights

Offshore industry

Case law
Secondary materials



The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 widely scattered granitic and coralline islands in the West Indian Ocean, centred about 1,600 km east of Mombasa, Kenya and 1,700 km north of Mauritius. The biggest island is Mahé, which is 27 km long and 8 km across at its widest point. The port town of Victoria, on Mahé, is the capital of Seychelles and the seat of government. A resident population of approximately 90,000 is overwhelmingly concentrated on Mahé and the other main inner islands, Praslin and La Digue.


Seychelles’ history is closely associated with that of Mauritius, of which it was originally a protectorate. The main islands of Seychelles were settled by the French in 1770 and more or less under French control until formal cession of both Seychelles and Mauritius to the British in 1810. Full British colonial status came in 1903. The peaceful negotiation of independence from Britain in the mid-1970s was followed by a socialist coup and 18 years of single-party rule. Multi-party democracy was reinstated in 1993 with the adoption of the Constitution of the Third Republic, which forms the heart of the modern legal system.


The people of Seychelles (Seychellois) are the descendants of early French settlers and African slaves brought to the islands in the 18th century; of Chinese who arrived as traders in the 19th century; and of Indians who settled in the early 20th century. There are no indigenous peoples. Creole is the lingua franca; English is however the language of government and commerce, and French is also widely spoken.




The Constitution of the Third Republic is the supreme law of Seychelles. It opens with an aspirational Preamble and includes as Chapter III the Seychellois Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), which closely mirrors the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.


The Constitution provides for a democratic multi-party sovereign republic, with an elected President as head of the executive. Legislative power is vested in a unicameral assembly consisting of twenty-five members. The Judiciary comprises a part-time Court of Appeal, a full-time Supreme Court which also sits as the Constitutional Court, and subordinate courts and tribunals. Five Chapters of the Constitution deal with key arms of the Executive (including Finance and Defence). Each branch of government has clearly delimited functions, with relatively little overlap, but the emphasis in the text is on “balance” rather than formal separation of powers.  Government is essentially centralised and unitary.


The Constitution contains its own principles of interpretation, which require it to be read purposively, in its entirety, and as always speaking. Breaches and potential breaches of the Charter and other provisions are actionable in the Constitutional Court, but there is no power for the Court to compel the legislature to act on a declaration of inconsistency.


In 2008, the President established a Constitutional Review Committee to review and report on the status of the Constitution in light of developments since 1993. The report of the Committee was presented in 2010. As at the end of 2014, most of its recommendations have not been implemented.




Seychelles has evolved into one of the few genuinely ‘mixed’ or 'hybrid' jurisdictions among modern legal systems, drawing extensively and somewhat erratically on both civil and common law traditions.


Substantive civil law remains essentially French, although the 1976 Civil Code of Seychelles (based on the Napoleonic Code) was enacted in the English language. The Civil Code is currently undergoing substantive review by a Committee chaired by Justice Mathilda Twomey (Court of Appeal).  Substantive criminal law is also codified (in the Penal Code ) but essentially English in origin, as are both civil and criminal procedural law. Legislative and executive procedure also follow common law traditions, with the result that a visitor reading modern legislation or following a court case could easily think that the common law rules. That would be a mistake, as civil law concepts remain deeply entrenched in local legal culture.  There is for example no domestic law of trusts, and no formal doctrine of precedent in civil cases (although superior courts' authority is generally respected in practice).


The 'mixed' nature of the jurisdiction means that Seychelles is not easily classified as either monist or dualist in terms of international law. International treaties and agreements executed by the President do not usually bind the Republic until ratification by the National Assembly, but can do so in certain circumstances (compare articles 48 and 64 of the Constitution). Judges are directed by article 5 of the Constitution to take judicial notice of Seychelles' international human rights obligations (and relevant international jurisprudence) in interpreting constitutional provisions. Judicial officers tend to be relatively comfortable with international citations, although a majority of cases are still decided with little or no reference to authority.






The National Assembly of Seychelles comprises 25 directly elected members (on a first-past-the-post system) and up to 10 members elected by a scheme of proportional representation based on the results of a general election held at least every five years. Members elect their own Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition is elected from among the members who do not belong to the political party which nominated the incumbent President for election. Since 2011, following a boycott of the last general election by the principal opposition parties, there has been only one such member.


Bills are generally enacted by a simple majority of members present and voting. The President can withhold assent to Bills which may infringe the Constitution. Certain entrenched constitutional provisions can only be altered by super-majorities of both the people (by referendum) and the Assembly.


The website of the National Assembly is a useful procedural reference source.




The President of the Republic is the Head of State, Head of Government, and Commander-in-Chief, and is elected by the people on the basis of universal adult suffrage by secret ballot for up to three five-year terms. A Cabinet of between seven and 14 Ministers, which may include the appointed Vice-President, is appointed by the President with the sanction of a majority in the National Assembly. Ministers cannot sit in the Assembly.


A Constitutional Appointments Authority, which includes appointees of the President and the Leader of the Opposition, recommends appointments to key public positions including the Chief Justice and other judicial officers, the Attorney-General, the Ombudsman, and the Auditor General.


The Attorney-General sits in Cabinet, acts as the principal legal advisor to Government, manages all legislative drafting and Government litigation, and institutes and supervises all criminal proceedings. The Department of Legal Affairs comprises his Chambers, the Drafting Division, the office of the Registrar‑General (combining the land and company registries), and the office of the Law Revision Commissioner (see further below).  There is no Ministry of Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions, or Law Reform Commission.


The civil service is a significant employer in Seychelles, particularly in law enforcement roles, reflecting both the tiny size of the country and a high and increasingly drug-related incarceration rate. Private employment is concentrated in the tourism, fishing, and offshore corporate sectors.


The two core government websites are Virtual Seychelles , which is currently the official website of the Republic, and State House , the Office of the President.




The independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed by article 119 of the Constitution, and the first two decades of the Third Republic have witnessed significant improvements in judicial independence and accountability (actual and perceived), although public confidence in the justice system is still regarded as fragile.


The last rights of external appeal (to Mauritius in civil matters, to the Privy Council in criminal) were abolished in 1976. Appeals in Seychelles cases are now handled by the Court of Appeal (which sits in three sessions of two weeks per year, in April, August, and December) or the Supreme Court (where single Judges hear appeals from decisions of Magistrates). The Supreme Court is not ‘supreme’ in the sense of being a court of final resort, but forms the heart of the judicial system, with all the powers, privileges, and jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice of England (including equitable jurisdiction). The Supreme Court has both original jurisdiction, in serious civil, criminal, and admiralty matters, and supervisory jurisdiction over subordinate courts, tribunals, and adjudicating authorities. Supreme Court matters are heard by a single Judge, except in cases of murder or treason (when it sits with a jury of nine) and constitutional matters (when two or more Judges sit together as the Constitutional Court).  As of 2012 there is a dedicated Commercial List, and as of late 2013 it is possible for most civil proceedings in the Supreme Court to be referred to court-annexed mediation, conducted by a Judge but in a less formal setting.


Magistrates and Senior Magistrates, who are qualified lawyers, sit alone in first-instance civil and criminal matters, within the limits of their statutorily capped jurisdiction. A Magistrate presides over the Employment Tribunal, Family Tribunal, and Rent Control Board, assisted by lay members. There are also numerous quasi-judicial administrative tribunals and authorities with rights of appeal to the Supreme Court.


The most senior non-judicial administrator is the Registrar of the Supreme Court, who does not have to be legally qualified. If so qualified, the Registrar may be appointed a Master of the Supreme Court to deal with matters that can be taken before a Judge in chambers.


The Chief Justice, who presides over the Supreme Court, is the head of the Judiciary, responsible for the administration of the Magistrates’ Court as well as the supervision of the legal profession, and has significant delegated legislative power as regards Court procedures. The Court of Appeal is presided over by a President (who may be non-resident in Seychelles) and operates with a degree of administrative independence, although it shares a building with the Supreme Court. The other Justices of Appeal, who may also be non-resident, can be assisted in certain circumstances by Judges drawn from the Supreme Court.


Judges and Justices of Appeal are appointed by the President of the Republic from nominees recommended by the Constitutional Appointments Authority. The practice of appointing expatriates from Africa, Asia, and Europe on fixed-term contracts, working alongside Seychellois who hold tenure for life, is provided for in the Constitution but has been an ongoing focus of controversy. Some of these foreign appointees have obtained Seychellois nationality through naturalisation during their term of office, and some have been criticised as lacking the cultural and legal knowledge necessary to navigate Seychelles’ unusual mixed legal system. It is however broadly accepted that, in a country with about 50 active members of the Bar and a history of perceived judicial corruption, reliance on expatriates has proved fundamental to the development of the courts to date.


In 2014, there were nine Judges of the Supreme Court (including the Chief Justice), five Magistrates (including two Senior Magistrates), and five Justices of Appeal (including the President of the Court of Appeal). The Judiciary does not currently have a website, but some information about the operations of the Courts (including weekly cause lists and recent Annual Reports ) is available on the website of the Seychelles Legal Information Inst itute ( SeyLII ).



Seychelles occupies an unusual position as a relatively developed small island state in sub-Saharan Africa. While an active participant in many African and particularly East African regional initiatives, Seychelles maintains strong relationships with both former colonial powers (France and the UK) and is a committed member of both the Commonwealth and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. The country has also during the Third Republic forged increasingly close ties with the UAE, China, and India: the new Palais de Justice, for example, is a gift from the People's Republic of China.

While a foreign exchange crisis in 2008 led to a bail-out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the IMF has recently acknowledged Seychelles' transition to a market-based economy with full employment and a fiscal surplus. Foreign aid and development support continues to be very significant, bilaterally and through international agencies like the World Bank, UNODC, and the EU, but Seychelles is also frequently cited as a modern success story, both as regards comparatively stable democracy and the emergence of the 'blue economy'.

Modern international legal influences are wide-ranging and partly reflective of the national background of expatriates engaged in development work – ranging from Indian draftspersons to Italian naval officers to Ugandan judges to Irish anti-money laundering experts. 

It is not yet possible to find comprehensive information online about bilateral and multilateral treaties, agreements, and other instruments to which Seychelles is party. Limited information is available on the website of the Ministry of Forei gn Affairs (MFA). The Republic's 2004 report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACPHR) contains a list of human rights instruments to which Seychelles was party at that time.


Since 2009, the legal landscape has been dominated by the prosecution of Somalian nationals for crimes of piracy committed outside Seychelles’ territorial waters. This was made possible by an amendment to the Penal Code in 2010 which redefined piracy in accordance with UNCLOS and conferred universal jurisdiction on the Supreme Court. A dramatic escalation of Somali piracy activity in the region had begun to spill over into the Seychelles EEZ in early 2009, seriously disrupting the critical fishing and tourism sectors. The willingness of the Seychelles government to accept pirates captured by foreign naval forces for local prosecution resulted in a massive inflow of infrastructure and capacity-building support from foreign governments and international organisations, the benefits of which have been felt throughout the law enforcement and justice sectors. The Seychelles experience is now seen as a case study for international cooperation and development in counter-piracy initiatives.

Justice Mathilda Twomey of the Seychelles Court of Appeal has published a recent article on Somali piracy and Seychelles. Other commentary on legal aspects of Seychelles’ experience is available through international websites like Communis Hostis Omnium and Oceans Beyond Piracy . Justice Anthony Fernando, also of the Court of Appeal, released a booklet on Seychelles piracy prosecutions in late 2014, which is not yet available online.

Human rights

Seychelles' score card on human rights indicators tends to be mixed. The constitutional Charter is relatively comprehensive and progressive, extending to third-generation rights such as the right to a safe environment, and the Constitutional Court is fairly active in adjudicating upon alleged violations. Notable legislative developments, such as the 2009 establishment of an independent Media Commission and the very recent enactment of the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2014, fall to be considered in light of the current inactivity of the Ombudsman and Human Rights Commission and a cultural memory of rights abuses during the years following the 1977 coup. Frequently raised concerns include police brutality, prolonged pre-trial detention and delays in Court processes, restrictions on freedom of speech and access to official information, domestic violence, and mistreatment of foreign workers.

Examples of recent international perspectives include the Freedom House Seychelles Report for 2013; the US Department of State's Country Repor t on Human Rights Practices for 2013 , which received a 'strong response' in a press release issued by the Republic; and the various observations and reports prepared by UN Committees and Special Rapporteurs, collated by the UNOHCHR .

Offshore industry

One area in which Seychelles' international reputation remains less than pristine is the corporate offshore industry, which represents a significant slice of the economy. Notwithstanding significant recent developments in tightening and enforcing the laws regarding prevention and detection of money laundering and terrorist financing, the country is still frequently cited as a 'secrecy haven'. 

The principal regulator for the offshore industry is now the Financial Services Author ity (FSA), which replaced the now-defunct Seychelles International Business Authority (SIBA) in 2014. Seychelles is a member of the regional anti-money laundering body, ESAAMLG, and the Republic is publicly committed to implementing the internationally endorsed FATF Recommendations .



Lawyers practicing in Seychelles are admitted as attorneys-at-law, with full rights of appearance before the courts. Most experienced attorneys also hold appointment as notaries – public officials with power to certify documents. Many are current or former members of the Assembly or hold prominent positions in the public and/or private sector. Sole practice or partnership is the norm: as at 2014 there was only one firm with more than three attorneys.


All criminal prosecutions are conducted by State Counsel or Public Prosecutors within the Attorney‑General's chambers. Almost all defendants in criminal cases (and many civil litigants) can access publicly-funded legal aid to cover the cost of an attorney.


Membership of the Bar Association of Seychelles (BAS), open to attorneys, notaries, and students, is voluntary and essentially social. BAS has recently begun to bestow the title of Senior Counsel (SC) on distinguished senior attorneys. Licensing and professional discipline is now the responsibility of the Judiciary, but the profession has until very recently been essentially self-regulated. In 2013 the Chief Justice promulgated the first statutory code of professional conduct for the Bar and established the virtual Judicial College of Seychelles, which is mandated to implement professional development initiatives for judicial officers, but has also been able to focus interest on training events for attorneys and students.


The fledgling University of Seychelles has recently introduced an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree, which produced its first local graduates in 2013 and is in the process of accreditation as an international programme of the University of London. This is the first time Seychellois have been able to study law in their own country; most current attorneys graduated in England, France, or Mauritius, producing a colourful mix of civil and common law perspectives. While the new domestic LLB focuses on English law, graduates are still required to sit locally-focused Bar examinations before commencing a two-year pupillage. A structured one-year Bar course was introduced in 2014. Continuing pressure from some quarters to open the profession to foreign-qualified lawyers led to amendments to the Legal Practitioners Act in 2013, which are yet to be brought into effect.


The only legal reference library in Seychelles sits within the Supreme Court and is co-managed with the Court archives. It contains a selection of domestic, African, European, and Commonwealth law reports, back issues of the Seychelles Official Gazettes, unreported decisions of Seychelles superior courts, and some commentary in hard copy, particularly English and French.


There is no official Government website dedicated to providing access to legal information in Seychelles. Limited information (including scanned versions of legislation) is available on a number of governmental and non-governmental websites, including international organisations like the ILO, but this information is often incomplete or out of date and should be approached with caution.


SeyLII, the Seychelles Legal Information Institute, was formed in early 2011 as a project of the Judiciary, with support from international colleagues in the Free Access to Law Movement (particularly AfricanLII). SeyLII’s core purpose is to provide a free online portal for domestic case law and legislation. While it remains a work in progress, the SeyLII website is already established as the default reference point for domestic legal research. Note that material uploaded to CommonLII and WorldLII prior to the establishment of SeyLII has not been updated and should also be approached with caution.


Queries for the Court Registry or the Supreme Court Library can be submitted through the contact page on the SeyLII website.



Acts passed by the National Assembly of Seychelles (primary legislation) are supplemented by Statutory Instruments promulgated under delegated legislative authority (secondary legislation), often referred to as rules, regulations, or orders.


Acts and statutory instruments are first published in the Official Gazette, under the supervision of the Attorney-General. Gazettes are supposed to be printed weekly and available for public purchase from the Department of Legal Affairs, although there can be a significant delay between the official publication date and the release of the hard copy. It is not currently possible for anyone, including government officials, to obtain Gazettes in soft copy.


The Laws of Seychelles is the official hard copy reference source for published legislation, collating Acts and their associated statutory instruments in alphabetised Chapters. The last comprehensive edition of the Laws of Seychelles was completed in 1991 and revised in 1996. No official consolidation of any kind has been released since then, although 'unofficial' consolidations of some key Acts were published under the authority of the Law Revision Commissioner as at 2010. This Commissioner, a former Chief Justice, was appointed under the Statute Law Revision Act in 2009 to undertake the long-awaited consolidation and rationalisation exercise, with a view to producing a new hard copy edition of the Laws of Seychelles (containing all Acts and statutory instruments currently in force). This exercise was unfortunately still in progress as at the end of 2014. In the meantime, legal practitioners and the general public have had to rely on a combination of outdated volumes and looseleaf Gazettes.


Unofficially consolidated versions of all Seychelles legislation, current to 30 June 2012, are now available to view and download on SeyLII. Legislation on SeyLII is divided into C onsolidated Acts (that is, Acts in force as at 1991 and therefore allocated a Chapter (Cap) number in the Laws of Seychelles), and Numbered Acts (enacted too recently to have a Cap number). Statutory instruments appear at the end of the Act under which they are promulgated and should be searched for using the name of that Act; the separate Statutory Instruments page is not comprehensive, and comprises mainly those instruments gazetted since mid-2012.


The 80 most frequently cited Acts, including the Constitution, Civil and Penal Codes, and Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes, have been consolidated to 30 June 2014 and published in a standalone eGrey Book , accessible through SeyLII, with significantly enhanced features. Gazettes since 30 June 2012 are manually scanned and uploaded as Numbered Acts or Statutory Instruments to enable users to check for recent developments.


SeyLII also hosts a legislative Finding List , prepared and regularly updated by a visiting academic from New Zealand, Professor Tony Angelo, to assist users in tracking down specific Acts and statutory instruments.


While all the legislation resources on SeyLII are currently unofficial, it is hoped that in time the obvious demand for the service will encourage Government to move towards official electronic publication.


SeyLII does not publish Bills or pre-assent legislation. The website of the National Assembly does not publish Bills either, but does host a significant amount of related information, including Order Papers, verbatim transcripts of proceedings in the Assembly (in Creole), full text versions of documents tabled, and the official Journals for 2012 and 2013 (which include lists of Bills passed and statutory instruments laid before the Assembly).


Case law


a. Reported decisions


The principal case reporter series in Seychelles is the Seychelles Law Reports (SLR), cited as [(year)] SLR [first page].


The SLR from 1997 to 2009, containing decisions of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, and from 2010 to 2013, also incorporating decisions of the Court of Appeal, are available free online through SeyLII, either for download as complete PDF volumes, or to browse decision by decision on the page of the relevant Court. Some recent hard copy volumes are available for purchase through the Supreme Court Registry. SLR prior to 1997 (one volume in 1923, regularly from 1936) are accessible in hard copy only and can be viewed in the Supreme Court Library or by contacting a local practitioner.


The Seychelles Court of Appeal Reports (SCAR) were published in the 1960s and 1970s, lay dormant for the next three decades, and have recently been revived. Volumes of the SCAR covering the interim period are due to be released in 2015. These volumes may be available free on SeyLII in due course; in the meantime, they should be available for purchase in hard copy through the Supreme Court Registry.


b. Unreported decisions


Since 2011, the majority of reserved decisions of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and Court of Appeal have been published on SeyLII shortly after delivery.  Several reports of Commissions of Inquiry (presided over by a judicial officer) are also available on SeyLII. Copies of unreported decisions which are not available on SeyLII can be requested from the Supreme Court Library.


As at December 2014, all reserved decisions on file in the Supreme Court Library had been scanned and electronically archived. It is anticipated that all archived decisions will be available on SeyLII by mid-2015.


Decisions of the Magistrates' Courts and Tribunals are not currently published, digested, or available online.


c. Digests and case abstracts


There have been five published Digests of rules from leading decisions of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and Court of Appeal, including Lalouette (1982) and Ayoola (1979-1996). The current Seychelles Digest (ed Angelo), first published in 2011 and revised and reprinted in 2014, is updated to the end of 2012 and available for purchase from the Supreme Court Registry.


Other material accessible in hard copy, either from the Supreme Court Library or by contacting senior local practitioners, includes:



Secondary material


Law students in Seychelles study English (and EU) law until they commence their local Bar studies. There are currently no peer-reviewed law journals in Seychelles or about Seychelles law, and no commercial legal publishers. There remains in fact very little published commentary on the Seychelles legal system, although this may begin to change now that there are legal academics within the University and on the Court of Appeal.


The Bar Association of Seychelles (BAS) established an online Law Journal in 2010, which has been dormant since 2012 but still contains a number of articles and presentations by local practitioners and judicial officers, in addition to several position papers / proposals from the BAS.


The SeyLII website contains a limited amount of secondary material in the form of recent speeches by judicial officers and material from conferences and training seminars hosted by the Judiciary.


The Seychelles Legal Environment website is an anonymous site self-described as 'the most informative online legal resource on Seychelles' and as 'constantly updated'. The website has in fact been dormant for several years and should be approached with caution.


a. Full-text online commentary


Commentary currently available in full-text online, in addition to the Law Journal o f the Bar Association of Seychelles, includes:


·       The Republic of Seychelles Country Report , Oxford Constitutions of the World (2013)

·       ‘The parts that make a whole?’ – the mixity of the laws of Seychelles’ in Palmer (ed), Mixed Legal Systems, East and West: Newest Trends and Developments (Ashgate, 2014)

·       ‘Muddying the Waters of Maritime Piracy or Developing the Customary Law of Piracy? Somali Piracy and Seychelles’ (2013) 19 NZACL Yearbook


b. Online collations/compilations


Some foreign and international organisations have attempted to collate Seychelles material online, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO) NatLex database of laws regarding labour and social security.


Stanford University's Africa South of the Sahara: Seychelles and Columbia University's African Studies: Seychelles are both useful compilations of general links, not limited to legal information


c. Hard copy resources


The small number of published legal texts, some only accessible in Seychelles, include the following:



Periodical articles / chapters include:



See also the references in the Library of Congress Global Legal Information Catalog , generally to international or comparative surveys / legal compilations (not focused on Seychelles) .


Very recent work, the volume of which is beginning to increase, includes the following:


·       'Things Fall Apart? - The mixing of fate, free will and imposition in the laws of Seychelles' in Farran et al., A Study of Mixed Legal Systems: Endangered , Entrenched or Blended (Juris Diversitas, 2014)

·       'Legal Salmon: Comparative Law and its Role in Africa' in Mancuso (ed), Comparative Law in Africa (Juta, 2014)

·       'Model Code or Mongrel Laws: The Strange Antecedents of the Seychelles Penal Code' (2014) Journal of African Law (forthcoming)