An attempt to deport an Australian-born judge from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati has been quashed on appeal..
David Lambourne had been serving as a high court judge since 2018 when the government attempted to deport him, claiming he had breached the constitution by “demanding to be paid as a judge-for-life”.
The Court of Appeal’s judgment, handed down on Friday, ruled in Mr Lambourne’s favour, effectively ending the attempt to deport him while he remains a judge.
“The two deportation orders … must be set aside,” the judgment reads.
The court further ruled Mr Lambourne be freed from imposed bail terms and his passport returned to him.
Costs against the attorney-general for both appeals and applications made to the court were also awarded to the Australian-born judge.
The Kiribati government attempted to deport Mr Lambourne earlier this month and then kept him in immigration detention for a day despite his release being ordered by the court.
Mr Lambourne says the government is trying to leverage him to put pressure on his wife, the Pacific nation’s opposition leader, to quit politics.
The dispute is in relation to Mr Lambourne’s tenure as a judge after being appointed to the high court.
The Kiribati government attempted to shorten his tenure to three years, refusing to issue him a work permit when he tried to return from Australia in 2021 if he didn’t sign the contract outlining the three-year term.
Mr Lambourne subsequently signed the contract as a matter of “practical necessity” due to the government’s threat to withhold his salary and an immigration permit, but has argued the move to limit his term was unconstitutional.
The actions constituted a breakdown of the rule of law, Mr Lambourne previously said as the government moved to suspend the high court’s chief justice and only other judge.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman told AAP the government was aware of the decision and consular assistance was being provided to Mr Lambourne.
“Our high commission in Kiribati continues to monitor the situation closely,” she said.
“The broader issues between the Government of Kiribati and its judiciary are matters for the Government of Kiribati to resolve, consistent with its constitutional and legal processes.”