A suspended Australian-born judge is challenging deportation from Kiribati

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – David LambourneAn Australian-born Supreme Court judge whose deportation two years ago from Kiribati sparked a legal crisis in the Pacific island nation appeared in court on Tuesday, in a case being watched by the United Nations and international law enforcement agencies.

Lambourne, who has lived in Kiribati for 30 years and is married to an opposition leader Tessie Lambourn, faces deportation if he fails to challenge Kiribati President Taneti Maamau’s impeachment bid. Kiribati will hold national elections later this year.

Mr Lambourne has been living in Kiribati without a visa or salary since 2022 when Maamau suspended him, then suspended all three Court of Appeal judges and the chief justice after ruling that Lambourne should not be deported.

One attempt to force deportation amid charges in August 2022 failed when a Fiji Airlines pilot refused to allow Lambourne on a plane against his will.

“Today’s case is about the government continuing to fight the law,” Lambourne’s lawyer Perry Herzfeld told the court via video from Sydney, referring to what he said were issues of judicial independence.

Maamau appointed a new jury to investigate Lambourne at “the fastest possible time” and plans to report to parliament next month, Herzfeld said. Lambourne’s legal team learned days ago of the court’s existence, he added.

None of the charges against Lambourne – including the arguments he took so long to judge – justified the president creating a tribunal to investigate his removal from office, he said.

It was also “fatal” in terms of the constitution that the court did not include a judge, he added.

Kiribati’s deputy attorney general, Mr. Monoo Mweretaka, argued in court that Lambourne’s accusations against him were serious, and there was no mandate for the court to give him justice.

There was no definition of legal office in the constitution, so it should not be limited to legally trained officers, he added.

In a letter to Kiribati in September 2023, Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said she was “deeply alarmed” by the suspension of judges, which left Kiribati without a functioning Supreme Court or Supreme Court of Appeal. act as a check on the power of the legislature.

The letter also raised concerns that Mr Lambourne’s support and the lack of a judge at the court could breach human rights standards.

The long-term visa issued to Lambourne in January will expire when the court makes a decision.

High Court Commissioner Aomoro Amten on Tuesday reserved his decision.

Kiribati’s parliament will hold its final session next month, before it adjourns in May ahead of national elections.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Party.)

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