New Zealand Law Society - Statement on Kiribati

Statement on Kiribati

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa expresses its growing concern for the rule of law in Kiribati, following the Kiribati Government’s detention and attempted deportation of High Court Judge, Mr Justice David Lambourne, in contravention of an interim order made by the Court of Appeal.

These actions follow the June suspension of Chief Justice William Hastings. In November 2021, Chief Justice Hastings ruled that the government acted unconstitutionally in preventing Justice Lambourne from returning to Kiribati. On the day of his suspension, the Chief Justice was to begin hearing a challenge to the tribunal established to consider Justice Lambourne’s case.

“As a member of both the Commonwealth and the international community, Kiribati has agreed to uphold fundamental rule of law obligations, as adopted in the Commonwealth Principles on the Accountability of the Relationship between the Three Branches of Government (the Latimer House Principles), the Commonwealth Charter, and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary,” says Ataga’I Esera, Vice-President of the Law Society. “Each of these requires that Kiribati upholds the rule of law and respects the independence of its judiciary.”

Judicial independence requires that judges are free from influence and can apply the law equally to all, including government. It requires proper procedures for the removal or suspension of judges, following fair and expeditious disciplinary processes that are free from political motivation.

“The use of misconduct allegations to suspend both Chief Justice Hastings and Justice Lambourne, without following proper process, is a breach of judicial independence and shows disregard for the rule of law,” adds Ms Esera. “It also creates a situation where there are no High Court judges in Kiribati, and therefore no functioning High Court.  An independent and functioning High Court has an important role in ensuring citizens have access to justice before an impartial body.”

“The Law Society urges the government of Kiribati to adhere to its Constitution and to uphold the rule of law.”