Nauru's former chief justice predicts legal break down

The former chief justice of Nauru Geoffrey Eames says a serious breach of the rule of law has occurred in the country.

An aerial view of Nauru - Getty-1.jpg

Nauru. (Getty) Source: SBS

The former chief justice of Nauru Geoffrey Eames says a serious breach of the rule of law has occurred in the country.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The comments come as Mr Eames tendered his resignation to the Nauruan government, two months after it cancelled his visa.

The federal government has described the incident as a domestic issue, but Mr Eames says a break down of judiciary institutions in Nauru is imminent and will have consequences for Australia.

The issue has also raised concerns for refugee advocates who fear that the processing of Australia's asylum seekers are in jeopardy.

(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)

Nauru's chief justice, Australian Geoffrey Eames had his Nauruan visa cancelled in January.

"I have never been accused of anything, except when all this was over I was accused of having engaged in cronyism and having acted against the interests of Nauru, all of these vague ridiculous charges were only made weeks after the event, they have never been placed before Parliament and really never could be it would've been obsurd."

Mr Eames says all his attempts to contact the Nauru government over the past two months have been unsuccessful.

And finally this week he resigned.

"I contacted them on Monday by email asking them to discuss the proposed resignation and what the process should be I didn't even have the courtesy of a reply."

Mr Eames says he was notified by his airline that his visa had been cancelled, the night before he was due to return to Nauru.

It came after he attempted to intervene in the deportation of the country's only magistrate, Peter Law, who is also Australian.

Mr Law was being removed from the country after the Nauru government claimed it had lost confident in him.

Mr Eames says the government alleged Mr Law had come into work intoxicated, an allegation he described as ridiculous.

He says the deportation of Mr Law came after the magistrate overturned an order from the country's Justice Minister for the deportation of two Australian businessmen.

He claims the government was unhappy with that ruling, subsequently fired Peter Law and enacted a new law that overturned previous rulings.

"Mr Law had acted entirely honorably and correctly and indeed the government itself as good as admitted that because brand new legislation which it declared to be retrospective and which in turn declared that all previous orders of the court all injunctions were no longer valid. It was a classic demonstration of the government regarding itself to be thwarted in its power by a court reviewing its decisions."

Geoffrey Eames says the action amounted to a government abuse of the rule of law.

"I think it's a very serious situation where government want to exercise power as this government has for deportation by removing all requirements that give notice to the person being deported, that give resons for it and that allow those reasons to be assessed by a court as to whether they were lawful or not. Where a government takes that sort of step to remove all scrutiny by the courts you have to extremely concerned because that's a very powerful weapon which is being employed by government which can really create a state of anarchy."

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition says the move has implications for asylum seekers on the island.

He says there's no consistent system in place for the processing of asylum seekers on Nauru, and many detainees have been left in limbo.

"There is no rule of law in Nauru, the Australian government is dealling with what is effectively a failed state and what is effectively a client state of Australia. I mean thw whoile thing looks just like what it is, a banana republic, a puppet arrnagem,nt of the Australian government and there can be no confidence at all that the refugee are going to be properly processed."

A statement issued to SBS from the Department of Foreign Affairs says the government views the restoration of a judiciary in Nauru as a priority.

It says that the government has voiced its concerns to Nauru over the implications of the visa cancellations of Peter Law and Geoffrey Eames for the rule of law in the country and for its reputation internationally.

However, it says ultimately Australia accepts that decisions about visas and the appropriateness of appointments are matters for the Nauru Government.

Mr Eames says the Foreign Affairs Department should have made diplomatic efforts to get his visa reinstated back in January.

"What it ought to have done is to use all its powers of persuasion that it should have restored my visa and allow the courts to get back to some sort of normalcy, they ought also to have acknowledged that the action they took against Peter Law was disgraceful breach of his rights and he should have been offered his contract back or if that was impossible and I could well understand why he wouldn't want to go back, if that was impossible to compensate him for the harm that had been done."

But Ian Rintoul says the Australian government appears not to care if the rule of law on Nauru is compromised.

"It suits them to turn a blind eye and what it shows is that the government is quite willing to turn a blind eye to the collapse of any rule of law in Nauru if they can continue to run their detention system there. That's their only consideration and in fact it suits the Australian government to have a dysfunctional judicial system on Nauru it means that there will be no independent oversight to the detention centre on Nauru. And now we've got a situation where actually asylum seekers are extremely vulnerable to what passes as the political apparatus."

The Nauru government announced on the 3rd of March that a new resident magistrate and registrar had been sworn in, recruited from Fiji.

Geoffrey Eames says he holds grave concerns for the future judiciary in Nauru.

He says he hopes that his replacement has a strong resolve to withstand any attempts at influence from the Nauru government.

"They will all endeavour to be true to their oaths which are to do right by all people without fear or favour and I'm sure they will endeavour to do that, the government however has made their positions very vulnerable and they must I imagine at all times be nervous about the prospect that if they make a decision the government doesn't like there's always the prospect they'll be escorted under police guard to the airport."

SBS received no response to several attempts to contact the Nauru government for reply.


7 min read
Published 13 March 2014 at 3:48pm
By Abby Dinham
Source: SBS