The justice system in the Pacific island nation of Nauru was in turmoil yesterday after the sole magistrate was sacked and deported while the chief justice, who is in Australia, saw his visa revoked.
Magistrate Peter Law, an Australian, was given no warning of his dismissal and his deportation appeared "politically motivated", Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames said from his home in Australia.
Eames issued an injunction against Nauruan President Baron Waqa to prevent Law's deportation and booked a flight to the Pacific atoll, only to be told his own visa had also been cancelled and the injunction ignored.
A staff member in the Nauru government information office confirmed that Law had his contract terminated but said no reason had been made public and she had no details on the immediate fate of the court system.
Eames said he was told by Waqa the deportation followed allegations of misconduct against Law by a former staff member, but the chief justice believed it was linked to the magistrate blocking the deportation of several Nauru residents.
The dismissal of Law was "politically motivated, designed to have the decisions overturned by a new magistrate, and amounted to an abuse of the rule of law", Eames added.
"In order to deal with the situation I therefore booked flights to Nauru but was later advised by the airline that the government had cancelled my visa, thus preventing me from conducting any hearings in Nauru.
"I have many part-heard cases and obligations to litigants and the people of Nauru. These events are unprecedented."
About 40 asylum seekers charged with rioting at the Nauru detention centre, a holding facility of people who paid smugglers for passage to Australia, were due to have hearings this week.
Australia's immigration minister, Scott Morrison, dismissed speculation that the events were linked to the asylum seekers.
"How or why this has occurred in Nauru isn't 100 per cent clear yet," Morrison said.
"But my best understanding at the moment is that it has nothing to do with how he was dealing with any asylum cases."
Nauru, the world's smallest republic, covers just 21 square kilometres. With fewer than 10,000 residents, it has the world's second smallest population after the Vatican City.