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Kiribati

Bombshell Kiribati decision

The Kiribati Government has taken a swipe again at all suspended judges, repeating its claim that the suspension of the Court of Appeal Judges was constitutional.

The government has also announced that it will soon be appointing an acting Chief Justice. Currently, there are no judges in Kiribati with the exception of magistrates.

There could be amendments made to the Kiribati laws if an internal appointment is to be made as there has been little interest shown by qualified legal practitioners to take up the posts on the island.

Furthermore, an independent tribunal will be set up to investigate the three appeals court judges who ruled against the government.

In a statement, the Office of the President said the three Judges dictated an apparent violation of their oath and legally binding custom and traditions by awarding David Lambourne with a life-time judgeship when they knew or should have known that in his affidavit he admitted he knew that every judge in Kiribati had been appointed a three year term, and that such life-term appointment was never the practices and usages of Kiribati.

President of Kiribati Tenati Maamau on the right. His office has had new things to say about the judiciary. Picture Office of The President of Kiribati
President of Kiribati Tenati Maamau (R). The Kiribati Government has taken a swipe again at all suspended judges, repeating its claim that the suspension of the Court of Appeal Judges was constitutional. Picture: Office of The President of Kiribati

“The Government is gravely concerned with the judgement of the Court of Appeal when they purposefully created a life-time appointment, a position unknown and alien to Kiribati and the Commonwealth of Nations and ignored the fact that the mistake was continued and not corrected,” the statement said.

“The questions which arise are, would the Judiciary respect the Government to allow it to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. Would the Judiciary maintain the balance of powers and respect the customs and traditions of Kiribati and its usages and not seek to convert the Sovereign Independent Republic of Kiribati into a judicial tyranny.”

Opening of the court in Tarawa Kiribati in 2020. Things were different then. Picture New Zealand High Commission Kiribati
Opening of the court in Tarawa Kiribati in 2020. The Kiribati Government has taken a swipe again at all suspended judges, repeating its claim that the suspension of the Court of Appeal Judges was constitutional. Picture: New Zealand High Commission Kiribati

External legal institutions were accused of questioning and making negative comments about the rule of law in Kiribati based on sensationalised media stories and the face value of the one-sided judgements.

These external institutions have been told to look deeper and understand the issue in its entirety, including the customs, the constitution and laws of Kiribati.

“The Government of Kiribati respects the rule of Law and is committed to ensure that the Judiciary continues to be functional to support the Commissioner of the High Court to serve the needs of the people of Kiribati,” said the Office of the President.

“A joint effort between the Government and the Judiciary will see to a recruited Acting Chief Justice in office soon.”

Move to oust government – 15 September 2022

 

There is much trouble in Kiribati as the opposition plans to bring a motion of no confidence against President Taneti Maamau.

Things have been building up in Kiribati and it started with the nation withdrawing from the Pacific Islands Forum and not agreeing to the Suva Agreement despite four of the five Micronesian States doing so.

This was accompanied by the Office of the President suspending judges in Kiribati leaving the higher courts empty.

The judges have been suspended and removed from their posts because the government did not like the rulings given by them showing interference into the judicial arm of the government by the executive.

President of Kiribati Tenati Maamau. Picture: UN
There is much trouble in Kiribati as the opposition plans to bring a motion of no confidence against President Taneti Maamau (pictured). Picture: UN

Kiribati’s first president, Sir Ieremia Tabai remains in parliament as a member of the opposition. He said people were worried because such actions do not augur well for a good leader.

He said before the end of the meeting of parliament, the opposition intended a motion of no confidence as an expression of regret and concern on what has transpired.

According to people in Kiribati, the president’s decisions have been questioned and they feel that he was running the country like a dictatorship where he failed to listen to reasoning.

In the judicial saga, the first judge to get suspended was David Lambourne. His wife and leader of the opposition Tessie Lambourne was told that there had been complaints made against him by the public. An independent tribunal will be set up to investigate this.

Mr Lambourne challenged this decision in the high court and a ruling was made in his favour by Justice William Hastings. This was the end of the line for Mr Hastings who was given his marching orders after this decision.

The government then appealed the decision of the high court which was quashed and the three appeals court judges were also told to leave.

David Lambourne at the Kiribati Airport. Picture: Borite Martin Tekanene
David Lambourne at the Kiribati Airport. He was the first judge to get suspended. Picture: Borite Martin Tekanene

There has been an international outcry from lawyers and legal bodies around the world who have asked the Kiribati leader not to interfere with the judiciary, but instead this has been ignored.

Mr Maamau has been invited by US president Joe Biden to attend the upcoming meeting of Pacific leaders at the White House, however it is not clear if he will attend this or the United Nations general assembly.

Former Kiribati president Anote Tong believes there is foreign influence resulting in the decisions by the president.

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