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Nauru sacks its sole magistrate, leaving detainees in limbo

Nauru's justice system is in disarray and cases against scores of asylum seekers are in limbo after the Nauru government sacked its only magistrate and denied its Australian chief justice a visa to re-enter the country.

The government moved without warning against the Australian magistrate Peter Law on Sunday, terminating his employment and escorting him in police custody to the airport, without giving him the chance to pack or close his flat.

It then ignored an injunction aimed at preventing Mr Law's removal issued by Nauru's chief justice, Geoffrey Eames, a former Victorian Supreme Court judge, who has expressed concern that the dismissal was politically motivated and an abuse of the rule of law.

Justice Eames was due to fly to Nauru last night but was told his visa had been cancelled, apparently on the order of Nauruan president Baron Waqa. He is believed to be considering challenging the cancellation in the Australian High Court.

Directions hearings involving about 40 asylum seekers charged with riot and wilful damage at the country's detention centre last year were to be held this week but are now unlikely to proceed.

Justice Eames has been Nauru's chief justice for three years and is believed to have expressed concerns to the Nauruan government about the conditions under which asylum seekers sent by Australian authorities are held on the island. He also opposed a move by the Nauru government to have the cases against those charged over last year's riot heard at the detention centre and closed to the media.


The 68-year-old remains Nauru's chief justice until the age of 75 unless he is removed by a two-thirds vote of the Nauruan parliament on the grounds of proven incapacity or misconduct.

In a statement issued on late on Sunday, he signalled that he had no intention of resigning the position, saying he had many part-heard cases and obligations to litigants and the people of Nauru.

''These events are unprecedented,'' he said. ''I consider that it is my duty to uphold the rule of law and the principle of judicial independence. Those principles are vital to democracy.''

The move against Mr Law came after he issued two injunctions restraining the government from deporting two residents without giving them any reason or right to challenge the action.

One of those to be deported was Rod Henshaw, an Australian expat who was an adviser to the former Nauruan government. Mr Henshaw runs the Reef Bar in the government-owned Menen Hotel. The government closed the bar and terminated his occupancy of a residential unit at the hotel.

Mr Waqa told Mr Eames on Sunday that Mr Law was being deported because he was the subject of allegations of misbehaviour by a former member of staff.

''Those allegations are strongly denied by Mr Law and are not consistent with my experience in working with him for the last three years,'' Justice Eames said.

''The person making the allegations is, I understand, facing disciplinary charges but neither those charges nor his allegations have yet been dealt with in a hearing by the Public Service Appeal Board.''

A group of locals who support Mr Law reportedly attempted, without success, to prevent his deportation by protesting at the airport.