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Nauru Supreme Court grants permanent stay to Nauru 19

13 September 2018

Justice Muecke of the Supreme Court of Nauru has granted a permanent stay in the proceedings against the "Nauru 19" defendants.

In his judgment he is severely critical of the actions of the Nauru Government, finding its actions had displayed persecutory conduct towards the defendants.

The Nauru 19 group were charged with various offences after a protest outside the Nauruan Parliament in June 2015. The group included a former President of Nauru and several former MPs.

The Nauruan Government failed to comply with a Supreme Court Order that it pay the legal fees of the defendants' lawyers.

The Government's failure to make the payment and the time it had taken for the matter to come to trial resulted in the defendants making an application for a a stay of proceedings. At the time of the stay application, in June 2018, the Nauruan Government indicated that it would appeal if a stay were granted.

Nauru also announced in July that it was ending ties to the High Court of Australia as its final appeal court, and establishing its own Court of Appeal. The new Court is expected to begin operations in October.

"An abuse of the process of the court"

The stay application decision, Republic of Nauru v Batsiua (Criminal Case 12 of 2017, Justice Geoff Muecke, 13 September 2018), is very critical of the actions of members of the Nauru Government Executive, particularly the Minister for Justice, David Adeang.

"I consider that this case is a very rare case where Executive Interference, virtually from the day after the events outside Parliament on 16 June 2015, has been such that I consider that 'the continuation of the prosecution is inconsistent with the recognised purposes of the administration of criminal justice and so continues an abuse of the process of the court' (see Mason CJ in Jago v District Court of NSW [1989] HCA 46)," Muecke J said (at 475).

"I consider that in denying the defendants legal representation and resisting their obtaining legal assistance, in imposing a 'blacklist', in forbidding any plea bargaining, and in publicly denouncing and vilifying the defendants and those seeking to assist them, the Executive Government of Nauru has displayed persecutory conduct towards these defendants which is all the more serious in the unique context of Nauru."

The government "blacklist" referred to was, Justice Muecke said, instructions by the Nauru Minister for Justice to those on Nauru who could have provided legal representation to the defendants that they were not to do so (at 368).

"I find that it has been understood by the Public Legal Defender and those in his office, by all legal practitioners on Nauru, and by all Pleaders on Nauru that the Minister for Justice expects that no legal assistance or representation is to be provided by them to any of the defendants before me. Further, I find that it is understood by those persons that the Minister of Justice considers that all these defendants are guilty of very serious crimes against the Parliament of Nauru, they should be shown no mercy, and they should be locked up for considerable periods." (at 369).

Justice Muecke said that in his judgment, there had been a shameful affront by the Minister for Justice to the rule of law in Nauru.

Photo of Nauru 19 trial
Former MPs Mathew Batsiua and Squire Jeremiah, two of the defendants, celebrate the stay.

Last updated on the 13th September 2018