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Nauru courts crisis a case of 'internal politics': Scott Morrison

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Judith Ireland, Michael Gordon

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Nauru crisis 'concerning'

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has attacked the government's silence over the unfolding Nauru crisis, which has seen senior judicial officials expelled from the country.

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Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has asked Australia's High Commission in Nauru to find out what will happen to the cases of asylum seekers charged with rioting after Nauru sacked its only magistrate and cancelled the visa of its chief justice.

Mr Morrison spoke with High Commissioner Bruce Cowled on Monday morning, asking him to find out how the outstanding cases will be addressed.

Justice Eames

Justice Eames

This week, directions hearings involving about 40 asylum seekers charged with riot and wilful damage at the country's detention centre were due to be held. In the wake of the legal turmoil in Nauru, they are now unlikely to go ahead.

"What is important is we need to understand how those cases are going to be dealt with," Mr Morrison told 2GB Radio on Monday. But Mr Morrison said after speaking to Mr Cowled, he was confident that the legal crisis in Nauru was nothing to do with Australia's processing of asylum seekers on the island.

"This appears to be something which is very much about internal Nauruan politics," he said.

Nauru's only magistrate, Peter Law - an Australian - was deported on Sunday.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames, who is also an Australian, issued an injunction to prevent the deportation but this was ignored. Justice Eames was due to fly back to Nauru on Sunday night but in turn, had his visa cancelled.

The chief justice, who has been in the job for three years, is believed to have expressed serious concerns to the Nauru government about the conditions asylum seekers are held in on the island.

Mr Law has recently issued two injunctions restraining the government from deporting two residents without giving them any reason or right to challenge the decision.

The magistrate told ABC Radio on Monday that he had been given no official reason for his deportation.

"I was found by the police, contacted and came to my place and arrested me because they demanded that I be on the first plane out of Nauru," he said.

Mr Law described the action by the Nauru government as a "complete debacle".

"Just this week we've had 60 or 70 criminal matters listed, including about 30 or 40 of the asylum seeker defendants. Where all this is going to go I don't know. I'm in the middle of judgments, sentences, so it's just a complete debacle as far as I can see."

Mr Morrison noted that because Mr Law and Justice Eames were officers under the Nauru court system, recent events were a matter for the Nauru government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that the Nauru situation was "very concerning" and that answers were needed from federal government.

Speaking to reports in Brisbane on Monday, Mr Shorten would not be drawn on whether Australia, given the given the uncertainty around Nauru legal system, should continue to send asylum seekers there for processing.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Australian government was "seeking clarification of the facts" around the deportation of Mr Law and the cancelling of Justice Eames' visa.

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