Legislation recently passed in Nauru shows the country is sliding towards authoritarianism, with the rule of law
threatened, the New Zealand Law Society says.
“The recently enacted Administration of Justice Act 2018 is another clear sign of the deterioration of civil rights in
Nauru,” the Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee convenor Austin Forbes QC says.
“Under the Act, a person who commits contempt of court is held strictly liable, subject to them proving the existence of
the provided defences. Contempt of court is defined as including anything that scandalises a judge or the court or the
justice system in any manner whatsoever.
“This can include the publication, picturising, uttering or ridiculing of a judgment or court order, the recording of
court proceedings, the criticism of any witness, parties, judicial offers, or legal representatives, and any attempt to
predict the outcomes of court proceedings.
“The breadth of conduct that it catches, the narrow defences, the burden of proving a defence, and the way in which
conduct is to be assessed raise major concerns about the rule of law in Nauru.
“The contempt of court prohibitions even extend to conduct overseas, and any publication overseas – through the internet
or otherwise – which is accessible to people in Nauru may amount to contempt of court.
“It is worth noting that the Act is so wide in its application that my comments could be caught by these contempt of
court provisions, raising at least the theoretical possibility of a prosecution against the New Zealand Law Society.”
Mr Forbes says another law passed this year, the Bail Act 2018, removes the presumption in favour of bail for those
accused of contempt of court.
“The Nauru government is generally shielded from the application of this law, if any statement it makes in breach of the
Act is deemed necessary for the public interest, national security or administration of justice.”
Mr Forbes says the New Zealand Law Society has a commitment to uphold the rule of law and the way things are developing
in Nauru is extremely worrying. He says it is important to highlight the situation and its potential impact on the wider
“And earlier this week the Nauru government said it had decided not to issue a visa to any Australian Broadcasting
Corporation staff to cover the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru in September. This is a clear illustration of the
breakdown of respect by the government there for the right of freedom of expression.”