Kiribati to deport Australia-born High Court judge

By Thomson Reuters Apr 27, 2024 | 12:48 AM

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Kiribati has notified an Australian-born judge removed from High Court by parliament this week that he will be deported after 21 days, in a case a U.N. special rapporteur said was a major setback for justice in the Pacific Islands nation.

David Lambourne, the former judge, said on Saturday he was served with a deportation liability notice at his home on Friday evening by Kiribati’s director of immigration, after President Taneti Maamau had approved his removal.

Lambourne, who has lived in Kiribati for 30 years and is married to the opposition party leader, said the decision was politically motivated.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Margaret Satterthwaite said the process by which Lambourne was removed violated international standards, and a special tribunal convened by the president was “marred by procedural irregularities”.

“I am appalled at the impact that this case has had on the independence of the judiciary in Kiribati,” Satterthwaite said in a statement late on Friday.

“The removal of judges without due process is a huge blow to judicial independence,” she said.

Lambourne has been living in Kiribati without a visa or salary since 2022 when President Maamau suspended him from the High Court. Maamau then suspended all three Court of Appeal judges and the chief justice, after they ruled Lambourne should not be deported.

Kiribati will hold national elections this year, and Lambourne appeared in court last month in a failed bid to have his suspension overturned.

A special tribunal recommended Lambourne be removed for misbehaviour because it said he delayed delivery of written reasons in a judgement in a case during an election period.

Lambourne has said the delay was because he was stranded outside Kiribati due to COVID-19 border closures. Parliament voted on Friday to accept the recommendation.

Lambourne said he has been given 21 days before he can be immediately deported, and intends to leave before the deadline to avoid being “whisked to the airport without notice”.

An attempt to forcibly deport Lambourne in August 2022 failed when a Fiji Airlines pilot refused to accept him on the plane against his will.

His wife, opposition leader Tessie Lambourne, will stay in Kiribati to contest the national election.

The Kiribati president’s office said in a statement it had complied with the constitution to remove Lambourne from office.

“The serious misbehaviours of the judge include his persistent disregard of the importance of promptly delivering written judgements in cases affecting public confidence,” it said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Tom Hogue)