Legislation recently passed in Nauru shows the country is sliding towards authoritarianism, with the rule of law threatened, the New Zealand Law Society says.
“The recently enacted Administration of Justice Act 2018 is another clear sign of the deterioration of civil rights in Nauru,” says the Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee convenor, Austin Forbes QC.
“Under the Act, a person who commits contempt of court is held strictly liable, subject to them proving the existence of the provided defences. Contempt of court is defined as including anything that scandalises a judge or the court or the justice system in any manner whatsoever.
“This can include the publication, picturising, uttering or ridiculing of a judgment or court order, the recording of court proceedings, the criticism of any witness, parties, judicial offers, or legal representatives, and any attempt to predict the outcomes of court proceedings.
“The breadth of conduct that it catches, the narrow defences, the burden of proving a defence, and the way in which conduct is to be assessed raise major concerns about the rule of law in Nauru.
“The contempt of court prohibitions even extend to conduct overseas, and any publication overseas – through the internet or otherwise – which is accessible to people in Nauru may amount to contempt of court.
“It is worth noting that the Act is so wide in its application that my comments could be caught by these contempt of court provisions, raising at least the theoretical possibility of a prosecution against the New Zealand Law Society.”
Mr Forbes says another law passed this year, the Bail Act 2018, removes the presumption in favour of bail for those accused of contempt of court.
“The Nauru government is generally shielded from the application of this law, if any statement it makes in breach of the Act is deemed necessary for the public interest, national security or administration of justice.”
Mr Forbes says the New Zealand Law Society has a commitment to uphold the rule of law and the way things are developing in Nauru is extremely worrying. He says it is important to highlight the situation and its potential impact on the wider Pacific region.
“And earlier this week the Nauru government said it had decided not to issue a visa to any Australian Broadcasting Corporation staff to cover the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru in September. This is a clear illustration of the breakdown of respect by the government there for the right of freedom of expression.”