Law Council Urges Kiribati to Respect Rule of Law After Attempts to Oust High Court Judge

Law Council Urges Kiribati to Respect Rule of Law After Attempts to Oust High Court Judge
Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, is seen in an aerial view on Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Daniel Y. Teng

Peak legal association, the Law Council of Australia, has urged the government of Kiribati to respect the independence of the judiciary following moves to deport one of two High Court judges from the country.

Australian David Lambourne has been fighting a deportation notice from the authorities who accused him of breaching his visa conditions and posing a national security risk.

While his lawyers managed to secure an injunction in the Court of Appeal against his deportation, authorities still tried to force him onto a Fiji Airlines plane destined for Fiji.

However, the pilot refused to fly an unwilling passenger, leading to a stand-off with authorities who relented and confined Lambourne to a motel.

Repeated Attempts to Oust Judge

The Law Council was “particularly concerned” with repeated attempts to oust Lambourne from the country. The judge is the husband of Tessie Lambourne, the current opposition leader of Kiribati—comprised of 33 islands—and has been an ardent critic of the government’s decision to switch ties from Taiwan to Beijing.

“This attempted deportation is the latest in a series of efforts by the government of Kiribati to remove Justice Lambourne from the judiciary. These efforts have included refusing to issue Justice Lambourne a visa or repatriation flight to Kiribati, withholding his salary, and pressuring him to sign an employment contract which limited his tenure,” according to a statement from the Law Council.

The group said after Lambourne’s tenure was affirmed by Chief Justice William Hastings, the Kiribati government set up disciplinary tribunals to investigate both justices, resulting in the suspension of both.

“The Law Council’s concern is heightened in the knowledge that warrants of appointment for the Court of Appeal expire this week, and soon Kiribati will have neither a High Court nor Court of Appeal exercising jurisdiction.”

The body said it would continue monitoring the situation.

It has been a challenging month for democratic institutions in Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga.

Last week, three Tongan MPs were removed from Parliament after the country’s Court of Appeal found them guilty of bribing voters.

While Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is trying to delay the country’s national election due next year, citing cost as the issue. He claims the country cannot afford to run the national vote and the Pacific Games simultaneously.

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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