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Call for Kiribati judicial independence

The standoff between the government of Kiribati and its judiciary is quickly catching international eyes and legal fraternities have called for the independence of its judiciary.

The call comes at a time when all judicial appointments in the nation are about to expire, leaving the tiny Micronesian state without any judges for the High Court or the Court of Appeal.

The latest to make the call is the Law Council of Australia who expressed its concern at what it calls the ongoing efforts of the government to undermine judicial independence and the rule of law.

This started with the suspension of High Court judge Justice David Lambourne, then the suspension of the Chief Justice William Hastings and finally came to down to a failed attempt to deport Mr Lambourne.

The deportation was only stopped when the Fiji Airways pilot refused to allow Mr Lambourne to board. The judge is married to Kiribati opposition leader Tessie Lambourne and had been a resident of Kiribati for some time.

Tessie and David Lambourne in Tarawa in Kiribati. Picture: Tessie Lambourne Facebook

The Law Council said in a statement, that it was particularly concerned that authorities sought to proceed with the deportation, in contravention of an interim order from Kiribati’s Court of Appeal, and then placed him in immigration detention.

It said the attempted deportation was 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 purported to limit his tenure,” the statement said.

After Kiribati’s Chief Justice William Hastings affirmed Justice Lambourne’s security of tenure in accordance with his appointment, the Government of Kiribati established disciplinary tribunals to investigate alleged misconduct by both Justice Lambourne, and later, Chief Justice Hastings.

As a result, both of Kiribati’s High Court judges have been suspended, and no further appointments can be made while the Chief Justice is suspended from performing the functions of his office.

The Law Council said their concern was heightened in the knowledge that warrants of appointment for the Court of Appeal expired this week, and soon Kiribati will have neither a High Court nor Court of Appeal exercising jurisdiction.

The Law Council urged the government of Kiribati to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary, and ensure that all disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings are fairly and independently determined in accordance with established standards of judicial conduct, and free from political influence.

The Law Council said they would continue to monitor developments in Kiribati.

It’s getting ugly in Kiribati – 20 August 2022

An intense court drama has enfolded in Tarawa, Kiribati as the battle between the government and former judge David Lambourne took place on Friday.

The government hired New York based heavy hitter lawyer Ravi Batra while Mr Lambourne was represented by Sydney barristers Perry Herzfeld and Daniel Reynolds.

Mr Lambourne’s lawyers argued deportation notices issued to him by the government were invalid.

Mr Lambourne is a long-time resident of Kiribati and lives with his wife, opposition leader Tessie Lambourne, in the nation’s capital, South Tarawa.

David Lambourne at the Kiribati Airport. Picture: Borite Martin Tekanene

Mr Herzfeld said Mr Lambourne should not have been issued with a visa that prevented him from working in the country and it was unreasonable in any case to conclude he had been working in breach of his visa condition.

Mr Batra alleged Mr Lambourne had always been appointed to the High Court for a fixed three-year term that expired last year.

But in a decision in November last year, the country’s Chief Justice, William Hastings, confirmed Lambourne had been appointed for life.

This was the ruling that led to Mr Hastings’ suspension and removal. The Court of Appeal justices Blanchard, Rodney Hansen and Paul Heath reserved their decision and will deliver judgment at a later date.

President of Kiribati Tenati Maamau. Picture: UN

Following the court case, the Kiribati government issued a statement accusing Mr Lambourne of being a fraud.

It said the government guarded the independence of the judiciary and is consistent with the principle that no one is above the law, especially the judiciary.

“The Government believes that David Lambourne as a former judge and as an officer of the court, betrayed his Oath of office and the honest men and women of the honorable judiciary when he created a scheme to violate both Kiribati’s Constitution and to raid her national treasury by demanding to be paid-for-life as an illegal judge-for-life, a position alien to the Constitution and every nation within the Commonwealth, including the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand,” the statement said.

The statement claimed that Mr Lambourne’s continued insistence to have a life-time contract had no basis and was an unconstitutional attempt to profit by getting paid and supported for life from the Government of Kiribati public funds.

It said Kiribati had made “many attempts and will continue to correct this fraudulent scheme by the David including the now suspended CJ’s biased judgments in 2021 in support of David’s efforts to illegally secure a life-time appointment as Judge in Kiribati.”

According to the statement, this was the judiciaries last chance to restore law and order in Kiribati.

“The Court must correct itself if the rule of law is to deliver impartial justice as a predicate for meritocracy and democracy and stop the continued attempt to use court orders as a weapon to deny natural justice to the people of Kiribati,” the statement said.

Government and judiciary at war – 18 August 2022

The Kiribati Government and its judiciary seem to be at war. In an unprecedented attack against the independence of the judiciary, the Office of the President in Kiribati said it is gravely concerned by the action of the Court of Appeal.

President Taneti Maamau said in his latest statement that he was worried about those who continued to aid and abet Justice David Lambourne in his “unconstitutional attempt to seek a life-time appointment”.

Justice Lambourne is a former solicitor-general of Kiribati and is married to the country’s opposition leader Tessie Lambourne.

Mr Lambourne’s attempted deportation by the government was thwarted last week by a Fiji Airways’ pilot who refused to allow the judge to board against his will. The judge was then detained and later granted bail.

David Lambourne (L) at the Kiribati airport awaiting deportation. Picture Rimon Rimon

The Kiribati Government has now stated that they have withdrawn the appeal case against the “judicially biased” judgement in relation to life-term appointment of David Lambourne as a Puisne Judge.

A new warrant issued by the President has now rendered the original appointment of Mr Lambourne as null and void.

“It is even more appalling that the Court of Appeal continues to sit and preside over a case that has been withdrawn and continues to force its will against that of the people of Kiribati.  It demonstrates the bias nature of these hearings and the length at which the Court of Appeal is prepared to undertake to protect their own interest which is against the greater interest of the people of Kiribati,” said the statement.

In an unprecedented attack against the independence of the judiciary, the Office of the President in Kiribati said it is gravely concerned by the action of the Court of Appeal. Picture: Office of The President of Kiribati

“The Government is concerned that if this life-time appointment is allowed to go without correction, then there would be no way of protecting the people of Kiribati from such dishonest practices from these foreign actors.”

The statement said it was alarmed by the mainstream media’s sensationalised and one-sided stories that negatively portrayed the Government of Kiribati efforts to correct the appointment processes.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, Commonwealth Lawyers Association and Commonwealth Legal Education Association have slammed the Government of Kiribati.

They said they were deeply concerned about the attempted deportation from Kiribati and current arbitrary detention of High Court Judge David Lambourne, following the withdrawal of the Attorney General’s appeal against the decision of the High Court in the constitutional claim brought by Judge Lambourne in November 2021.

Twist in Kiribati judiciary crisis
Kiribati deportation attempt spoiled by pilot

The associations said they were alarmed that the tribunals set up to investigate alleged misbehaviour by Judge David Lambourne, and that Chief Justice William Hastings has yet to report on any findings.

The associations said they were further alarmed that there has been an attempt to deport Judge Lambourne without due process being followed and he has subsequently now been arbitrarily detained by the authorities in Kiribati.

  1. Eremasi Cama Tamanisau 6 months ago


    1. Is the Lifetime appointment of Judge Lambourne in accordance with the Kiribati Constitution?

    If so, then Govt is in the wrong.

    If NOT, then the stench of CORRUPTION in the Judiciary is overpowering!!!

    • Vincent 5 months ago

      You have probably never heard about the Commonwealth (Latimer House) principles (2003) and the Constitution of Kiribati says nothing about the permanent appointments of judges – that are been made by the president. So please inform you before comments.

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