Nauru determined to rehabilitate judicial sector after NZ talks
Nauru government determined to rehabilitate judicial sector following Wellington meeting with NZ govt.
The Nauru government says it's determined to rebuild its judiciary and move away from the sort of cronyism it says has been entrenched in the sector for a long time.
Government ministers this week visited Wellington for talks with New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully over his government's aid programme that supports Nauru's justice sector.
The aid was being reviewed after last month Nauru's resident magistrate, an Australian Peter Law, was deported and the Australian based chief justice was denied a visa to the island.
Nauru's Minister of Home Affairs, Charmaine Scotty, told Johnny Blades that they came away from Wellington satisfied that not only will the aid programme continue but also that there will be more openness over the judicial recruitment.
CHARMAINE SCOTTY: There was agreement from both sides to ensure a fair, transparent and just process is put in place in the recruitment of personnel in Nauru's judiciary posts, where all processes that relate to any person being contracted using New Zealand funding is involved. And the overall objective of this is to facilitate good process and open communication between the parties.
JOHNNY BLADES: So is this an admission that the process wasn't followed properly before?
CS: No, it's like a little bit of an addition in regards to... what was in place before, I suppose never anticipated what eventually eventuated a couple of weeks back.
JB: Do you mean it was sort of an extraordinary situation surrounding [Peter] Law was it?
CS: Yes, surrounding the recruitment and the termination of the former magistrate's contract. So this is ensuring that New Zealand is part of all the process, because they've always been part of all that process but in regards to termination and things like that, it needs to be cleared up a little bit. And this is where we're wanting to ensure that the process is more open between Nauru and the New Zealand government.
JB: Apart from processes, there were these allegations [by the Nauru government] of misconduct over Law, over Law's performance, but they weren't seen to be dealt with in the normal way, so that's not a good look.
CS: But that's what the misunderstanding is on behalf of everyone. Because Nauru's a very small place and we've had the magistrate, Law, there for a very long time. And now we've realised that we need to enhance and better the system because he was doing everything. There was no one to check and balance, to check him out, kind of thing. Because he had been working as both the Magistrate and registrar. What's happening now is we've put in a process where we recruit more people, we separate the two posts. We have a registrar and we have a different person to be a magistrate.
JB: But that's a workload thing. He [Law] was accused of all sorts of other things - misbehaviour, drunkenness - why wasn't he able to defend himself on these things?
CS: It wasn't just the previous government. If you look back into the records, even before this new government, Mr Law was to have been terminated. But because he's been on the island for a very long time and he is in a very high position and tends to know the right people. So he's managed to escape being terminated. Because in Nauru we always have constant changes of ministers so he gets around and he gets away with convincing a new minister that what's been happening [accusations against him] is personal, things like that. It's all come to a head. It's been happening for a long, long time. This is where we want the process to be more broken up, so there's assurance that these people... Because in the bigger countries, there's lots of magistrates that look out for each other and they know that someone else is doing something wrong. But in Nauru we only have one magistrate - everybody else doesn't know what the law is, kind of thing. And we need to have more people to ensure that there's more transparency.
JB: And what about the chief justice, he can't get back because his visa's been cancelled, what's with that?
CS: Sadly there's a bit of cronyism in regards to these people, these senior ex-pats being in high positions in Nauru. They've been there for a long time and they tend to have their own system of doing things. This is where we want to ensure that the system is not only fair for the people who work in the judiciary but it's also fair for people that are part of the executive, and also the legislative. In previous events we have had the chief justice overrule our parliament in regards to our state of emergencies. It's happened quite a few times, and there's a great big confusion on the island. So this is something we're working to improve. We are wanting to change the contracts of our chief justices, we want them to make them be there for no longer than maybe two years. We're going to introduce these appraisal things, like maybe six monthly.
JB: We can't help but look at the actions on Peter Law and [Chief Justice] Eames, and the deportations of some business people as well, alongside a journalist visa hike of eight thousand dollars. It makes Nauru look like a laughing stock.
CS: Yes, in regards to the visa hike, for the media, with the processing centre being set up on Nauru, there's great international interest from the media. And when they do come to Nauru, for some reason, they just always give us really bad press. It's like they've already agreed, even before arriving, that they're going to give us a bad press because they don't agree with the processing centre. So they're giving us bad names, and they're calling us a hellhole and things like this. It's a really big problem for the people back home.
JB: Sure, sure. But why don't you help facilitate better coverage of it by not making it so extremely difficult for journalists to come in? That's not helping the reputation, is it?
CS: No, there was no problem in regards to journalists coming in. But when they started coming in and doing all these bad press, it really made big problems for us, so that's why we went this way. But international media is welcome in Nauru. If you apply to the government and they approve you to come, then you don't need to pay the fee.
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