Montserrat Country Profile


Executive Summary

Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory with a population of just over 5,000. This figure represents around half the size of the previous population, before the volcanic activity that began in the southern part of the island in 1995. Since that year, the government has not allowed areas around the still-active volcano to be inhabited.

Crime in Montserrat is low and the country typically does not suffer from the type of security threats faced by other states in the region. In early 2013 authorities arrested four alleged drug traffickers though cases such as this appear to be uncommon.

Media reports highlight inefficiency as being a problem in the judiciary, though there are few independent surveys to substantiate this. Unlike other countries in the region, corruption and abuse in the police force does not appear to be a problem, with the main concern being one of the force’s operational capacities.

As a result of its ties to and current economic dependence on the government of the United Kingdom, the opportunities for direct engagement with the Montserrat government on justice and security initiatives in the country are likely limited, and consultation with the United Kingdom will most likely be required first.

Security and Justice Context

Violent crime in Montserrat has historically been low; between 1998 and October 2012, only eight murders were recorded on the island[1] (See Figure 1.). However, two of these were committed in 2012, raising concerns among government officials.


Fig. 1 Montserrat Homicide Rate 1998-2012

The number of reported crimes on the island has remained relatively consistent over the years, fluctuating between a low of 374 and a high of 476 from 2006-2011. The majority of crimes committed were cases of assault, domestic violence, theft and burglary. The overall rate of crime is low, according to both the US State Department and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Montserrat is considered one of the most secure countries in the region.

The island serves as a transit point in the international drugs trade, though its role is relatively minor. In January 2013, police seized 65 kilograms of cocaine from two burial sites located in the country’s exclusion zone in the south[2] . Prior to the seizure, Montserrat authorities stopped a Dominican registered vessel that was reportedly acting “suspiciously” and detained four people on board, three of whom were from Dominica and one from Venezuela. The four were later charged with trafficking the 65 kilos of cocaine. This incident, however, appears to be an isolated case.

Montserrat has no registered presence of transnational criminal organisations and domestic gangs do not appear to be a problem on the island. Unlike certain other countries in the Caribbean, Montserrat does not appear to suffer from human trafficking, arms trafficking, gun crime or money laundering.

Perceptions of Insecurity

There is no data available on perceptions of insecurity among Montserrat’s citizens.

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

As a result of its ties to the United Kingdom, Montserrat’s legal system is based on British common law practice. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court[3] (ECSC) administers the country’s judicial system; however, unlike other countries under the ECSC, there is no permanent High Court judge assigned to the island due to its small population. Instead, the country is typically served by the ECSC judge assigned to the island of Nevis[4] .

The country has a High Court and one Magistrate’s Court, the latter of which only has jurisdiction over minor criminal and civil cases. Appeals can be sent to the ECSC Court of Appeal[5] , though final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in the United Kingdom.

The attorney general, housed under the Attorney General’s Chambers, serves as the government’s legal advisor and is also responsible for drafting government legislation. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), an independent position, is the country’s principal prosecutorial authority. The post was created for the first time as a result of the 2010 constitution and Montserrat’s first DPP was appointed in 2011.

The 2010 constitution also mandated the creation of a Complaints Commission which would effectively operate as the country’s ombudsman, though the Commission only held its first meeting in February 2013. At the time of writing, legislation which will govern the Commission’s operations was still being discussed.

The reputation of Montserrat’s justice system is difficult to gauge as there are few independent reports publicly available which assess its efficiency. In 2010, there was reportedly a case backlog in the High Court due to the fact that the ECSC high court judge visits only three times a year, while the criminal justice system has been criticised in the local media for being inefficient. In particular, the Office of the DPP was noted in 2012 for its lack of professionalism and for being plagued by infighting. However, this criticism stemmed from only one media source.

There is one prison on the island which is run by the Prison Superintendent and was officially opened in 2004. Prior to this, prisoners often had to be relocated to other British Overseas Territories or commonwealth countries. Inmates are typically enrolled in work programmes, including woodwork, crafts, agriculture and gardening. Educational programmes are also run to help illiterate inmates who in 2010 comprised half of the prison population.

At the time of writing there was no available data on the prison population or its capacity.

Security Institutions

The Royal Montserrat Police Service (RMPS) is the primary body charged with domestic law enforcement and counter-narcotics operations, and has around 70 police officers. The Governor of Montserrat, who serves as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen, is responsible for the police force.

The RMPS appears to have a clean reputation with no serious reports of corruption within the force. In December 2011, a RMPS officer was arrested and accused of assaulting two people following their arrest. The incident was investigated with the help of police officers from the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to ensure effective oversight and the officer in question was subsequently charged in February 2012.

A review of the police force was carried out in 2012 having been commissioned by the Governor of Montserrat[6] . This came in response to a reported increase in crime in the country. The review found that while the number of police serving the island was enough to meet the current demands based on crime rates, the force required modernisation and certain reforms to address weaknesses in its operational capacity (See Security Sector Reforms and Initiatives Section, below).

The Royal Montserrat Defence Force (RMDF) is a small force comprised of around 20 volunteers who perform mainly ceremonial duties though have been trained to provide disaster relief support and conduct search and rescue operations, among other duties. As with the RMPS, the Governor is responsible for the RMDF.

Montserrat’s Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020 prioritises the development of economic self-sufficiency due to Montserrat’s dependency on the United Kingdom following the 1995 volcanic disaster and continued volcanic activity. Regarding justice and security, the plan seeks to strengthen and modernise institutions in these respective sectors in order to improve efficiency and effectively combat crime. Both sets of goals are medium-term objectives.

There is also a Strategic Plan covering 2011-2014 for the RMPS which, among other aims, seeks to reduce crime and the fear of crime, and increase public confidence in the police force through initiatives such as community policing[7] .

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

The most substantial reforms to come about in recent years in the justice sector are tied to the 2010 constitution. As previously mentioned, this mandated the creation of both the DPP and an ombudsman to serve the country, the latter of which is still to be created.

No other major reforms have been undertaken in the justice sector.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

No significant reforms of the police have been undertaken in recent years, though the aforementioned review, carried out in May 2012, made a number of recommendations for minor reform measures to improve the RMPS. Among the main recommendations made were revising the force’s 2011-2014 Strategic Plan, drafting an annual policing plan as a “delivery mechanism” to meet the Strategic Plan’s targets, and promote inter-agency cooperation to improve crime reduction initiatives in the country.

In addition, the review pointed to the need for police leadership to become more cohesive to improve the effectiveness of the force and improve confidence amongst the force’s officers in senior management. The force should also explore the possibility of utilising CCTV technology to monitor entry and exit points into the Exclusion Zone in the south, the review team noted.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

Montserrat has a Legislative Assembly consisting of nine members who are elected to five-year terms, and two unelected members: the attorney general and the financial secretary. The Assembly is constitutionally mandated to establish at least two Standing Committees whose members must not be part of the cabinet, and can call any minister or public official to appear before it.

Security and Justice Opportunities

The United Kingdom has been actively involved in providing Montserrat with help in reform measures and aid following the start of volcanic activity in 1995. From January 2001 to April 2012, Montserrat received approximately £102 million in “Operational” Budgetary Aid from the UK. The two governments have, however, been in talks over reducing Montserrat’s dependence on the UK.

In light of Montserrat’s status as a British Overseas Territory, it is likely that engagement with the Montserrat government on reform measures would involve the UK. Montserrat has proved willing to work with other countries in the region, predominantly other British Overseas Territories, highlighting that it is receptive to receiving outside help.

Justice Sector Opportunities

The two areas within the justice sector that could benefit most from guidance are the yet-to-be created ombudsman’s office and the nascent DPP’s Office. Should the opportunity exist for  engagement with the government on these issues—as previously mentioned, it may come under the purview of the UK government—then efforts could be made to ensure the DPP’s Office is developed to become a more professional, effective body, and that the initiative to create an ombudsman moves forward.

Security Sector Opportunities

Given previous engagement with other police forces in the region—for example, from the Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands, and Bermuda—to help improve the RMPS’s accountability, it is unlikely that help is required to ensure recommendations from the May 2012 review are carried out. The reforms required appear to be relatively minor and will likely be carried out with help from a regional partner, if indeed external guidance is required.

Efforts could be made, however, to ensure that the RMPS improves surveillance in the southern section of the island, particularly in light of the discovery of burial sites in 2013 containing cocaine shipments. The fact this section of the country remains uninhabited leaves it vulnerable to being utilised by drug traffickers as a storage point.

Civil Society Actors to Engage With

The Alliouagana Human Rights Group (AHRG) is an alliance of 11 non-government organisations in the country that works toward educating citizens on their human rights as outlined in the 2010 constitution, and what steps they can take if they believe their rights have been violated.


Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK), “The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability,” November 2012

Government of Montserrat, “Review of Royal Montserrat Police Service,” June 2012

Montserrat Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, “Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2010," 2010 

Newman, G.R (ed.), Crime and Punishment around the World (Four Volumes), ABC-CLIO, 2010


[1] Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is incomplete, with no figure given for 2004. This raises the possibility that more homicides occurred in the 1998-2012 timeframe.

[2] The southern half of Montserrat is uninhabited due to continued activity of the Soufriere Hills volcano which erupted in 1995. Citizens are forbidden to reside in the country’s south.

[3] The ECSC is the superior court for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members. This includes six independent states and three British Overseas Territories. The ECSC is headquartered in Saint Lucia.

[4] St. Kitts and Nevis has two judges assigned to it, one to serve St. Kitts and the other the island of Nevis.

[5] The Court of Appeal moves about the OECS when it is required.

[6] The review was led by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Overseas Territories Directorate Law Enforcement Adviser, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Deputy Commissioner of Police, and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police.

[7] The RMPS has placed a strong emphasis on community policing for a number of years.

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.