Kiribati High Court judge’s deportation attempt results in lengthy airport standoff

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Kiribati High Court judge’s deportation attempt results in lengthy airport standoff

Attempts to deport a Kiribati High Court judge back to Australia have resulted in a lengthy airport standoff, with Justice David Lambourne being placed in immigration detention.

Justice Lambourne is a long-time resident of the Pacific nation.

He was suspended from his job in May due to alleged misconduct by the government.

On Thursday morning, he was served a deportation notice and was taken to the airport in Kiribati's capital Tarawa to be placed on a flight to Fiji.

An urgent application that his lawyers filed to the court of appeal prompted the court to order the Attorney-General to stop the deportation.

The police and immigration officers at the airport tried to force him to board the flight, according to Justice Lambourne and a local journalist who was present at the scene.

A stand-off was triggered when the government refused to let the plane depart unless the justice was on board, while the pilot of Fiji Airways flight did not want him to board against his will.

After several hours, the government backed down and allowed the flight to leave without Justice Lambourne.

He was taken into immigration detention without a valid visa.

Justice Lambourne told the ABC he was being taken into detention because he was fortunate to have some very good lawyers who were able to make contact with the legal team at Fiji Airways.

When Fiji Airways became aware of the situation, they maintained their position — the correct position — that unless I was a willing passenger, they were not going to carry me. Justice Lambourne suspects that the government will make another attempt on Sunday when a Solomon Airlines flight is due to depart Tarawa.

Justice Lambourne, who has lived in Kiribati for 27 years and is married to the leader of its opposition, Tessie Lambourne, was suspended in May after the government claimed he had failed to carry out his duties.

The government set up an independent tribunal after it received complaints from the public against Justice Lambourne.

The allegations included his inability to perform functions of his office and his misbehaviour, a government statement said.

The government didn't say anything about the complaints or allegations.

Justice Lambourne won a legal case against the government last year when it tried to deny him entry back into Kiribati.

In June of this year, when Chief Justice William Hastings was due to preside over an appeal made by Justice Lambourne, the government suspended Justice Hastings.

The suspensions left Kiribati without a functioning high court.

The Kiribati government has asked for comment, according to the ABC.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade DFAT said the Australian government was aware that suspended High Court Justice David Lambourne was served with a deportation order and asked to leave Kiribati DFAT is in direct contact with Mr Lambourne and officials from the High Commission in Tarawa are providing consular assistance.

Our High Commission in Kiribati is closely monitoring the situation and has sought further information from the government of Kiribati.

We can't reveal more details due to our privacy obligations.