Nauru's chief justice resigns
Nauru's chief justice Geoffrey Eames has resigned, saying New Zealand and Australia should have taken a tougher stance over serious breaches of the rule of law in Nauru.
Nauru's chief justice Geoffrey Eames has resigned saying New Zealand and Australia should have taken a tougher stance over serious breaches of the rule of law in Nauru.
Mr Eames' resignation comes two months after the government there withdrew the visa of the Australia-based lawyer and deported another member of the judiciary and several expatriates, amid allegations of cronyism.
Mr Eames told Sally Round he's done everything he can to draw attention to the issue and there was no point remaining a chief justice in exile.
GEOFFREY EAMES: I didn't resign straight away because I'd done nothing wrong and I'd simply been deprived of my visa by a government which if it wanted to get rid of me was obliged under the constitution to obtain a two thirds vote and to prove that I'd been guilty of serious misconduct in the parliament. Well none of those steps were taken and there was absolutely no reason why I should have resigned.
SALLY ROUND: New Zealand provides substantial funds to Nauru's justice sector. The Foreign Minister Murray McCully has said he's not interested in what you've had to say about judicial independence there. What do you think about how New Zealand has handled this?
GE: Well New Zealand was probably in a stronger position, if not stronger position than Australia because it provided the bulk of the funding for the judiciary. Its funding was tied to the obligation to meet various requirements as I understand it, one was the adherence to the rule of law, so New Zealand was in a very strong position to put to the Nauru government that it should acknowledge that it had in fact departed in a serious way from the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and it should acknowledge that and if it was not to undermine public confidence well whatever the discussions were which took place they didn't achieve that result nor did they achieve a return of the visa and instead what was obtained was a fairly vague statement that in future the Nauru government would be transparent in its process of appointing new members of the judiciary. Well that's all very well and good but without an acknowledgment of what had been wrong in the past in their actions, it wasn't much force to the generalised assurance it will do better next time.
SR: So do you think New Zealand has taken too weak a stand on this?
GE: I think they could have taken a stronger stand indeed and I think one of the problems which was true for the Australian government as for the New Zealand government was that they initially put out statements which really trivialised the dispute as a matter of domestic politics, a local dispute. It was a very great deal more significant than a mere dispute over detail. It was an absolutely fundamental core issue about the nature of the government, whether it was applying a democracy and whether it accepted the rule of law and I think by making statements which trivialised the dispute from the outset both governments put themselves in a very difficult position to then say the response of Nauru has been inadequate.
SR: There has been since a strong statement from Pacific Island chief justices, meeting in New Zealand recently condemning the Nauru government's actions. So more grist to your mill?
GE: Well precisely. Judges around the Pacific region understand how threatened at times the rule of law can be. Many countries have experienced departures from the rule of law and constitutional crises and so they're all very alert to any situation which arises because if it is allowed to fester in one state it can undermine the rule of law throughout the whole of the Pacific.
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