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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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Nauru's judicial crisis has escalated, with the country's solicitor-general quitting in protest at the sacking and deportation of Nauru's only magistrate and the sidelining of its chief justice on the eve of trials of scores of asylum seekers.

The resignation of Steven Bliim as solicitor-general came as Nauru's President appointed a Melbourne lawyer as the new magistrate - in apparent contravention of Nauruan law - and signs of growing dissent by Nauruan MPs.

jaf020227.001.001   Mr Justice Eames of the Victorian Supreme Court.  A 1992 filer.

Picture by John french, The Age.

Justice Eames.

It has also emerged that both the sacked magistrate, Peter Law, and the exiled chief justice, Geoffrey Eames, resisted the Nauruan government's push for the asylum seeker trials to be held inside the island's detention centre, rather than in open court.

Strongly opposing this move, Justice Eames likened the proposal to the conducting of trials inside Guantanamo Bay. He insisted trials should not proceed within the walls of the institution where the accused were detained.

Although the trigger for the crisis has nothing to do with the asylum seekers being held on Nauru, the trials of those charged over last year's riots at the detention centre have been thrown into disarray.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday he was seeking advice on how the cases would be affected. He suggested the cause of the crisis appeared to be ''something which is very much about internal Nauruan politics''.

But human rights lawyer Julian Burnside said the result was likely to be ''very bad'' for the asylum seekers - delaying the processing of claims and making appeals against adverse decisions more difficult. ''The failure of the rule of law always hurts people whose rights are at risk - and asylum seekers in Nauru are at the top of that list,'' he said.

After sacking Mr Law as resident magistrate and ignoring injunctions issued by Justice Eames to prevent Mr Law's deportation on Sunday, Nauru President Baron Waqa appointed Andrew Jacobson as resident magistrate on Monday.

While Nauruan law stipulates that magistrates can be appointed by the president only after ''consultation'' with the chief justice, Justice Eames was simply informed of the decision on Sunday. He made it clear he opposed it.

Justice Eames is considering a challenge in the Australian High Court - the highest court of appeal under Nauruan law - to the decision to cancel his visa to return to Nauru.

On Monday he extended the injunctions Mr Law had issued to prevent the deportation of two Nauruan residents who were deemed ''prohibited immigrants'' by Nauru's Justice Minister David Adeang under recently introduced legislation. Mr Jacobson is expected to rule on Tuesday on whether to continue the injunctions.

The deportations were being opposed in part because a provision denying the right of appeal was in a section of the law that had been repealed. The amendments are believed to have been drafted by the new magistrate.

Mr Bliim, a former Sydney barrister, was appointed Nauru's key adviser on civil litigation in December 2012. Asked why he had resigned, Mr Bliim told Fairfax Media: ''Because of what happened on Sunday.''

Mr Law confirmed he had opposed holding the trials of asylum seekers in the detention centre. He had stressed to asylum seekers that the cases would proceed in an open court accountable for its decision and processes. ''That was a huge relief because many of them come from jurisdictions where that doesn't exist,'' he said.

With Daniel Flitton and Judith Ireland

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