Government slapped down for ‘pointless’ asylum seeker battle
Leading social justice lawyers Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the National Justice Project have slammed the government for launching frivolous and expensive legal battles against asylum seekers after the Federal Court rejected its claim that it did not have jurisdiction in the area.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the National Justice Project have been involved in a long legal battle about whether over 50 refugees who required life-saving medical treatment could take action in the Federal Court to ensure they received treatment.
Since December 2017 in excess of 50 separate legal proceedings have been commenced in the Federal Court of Australia to facilitate the transfer of refugees and people seeking asylum from Nauru or Manus to Australia for urgent medical care. In every case the applicant has been successful and brought to Australia for medical treatment.
The majority of these cases were commenced as injunctive proceedings and remain before the Federal Court as ongoing legal matters. Countless more families were brought to Australia as a result of legal intervention outside of court processes.
The Minister for Home Affairs and the Commonwealth tried to argue that section 494AB of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) prevented the Federal Court from having the power or jurisdiction to hear and continue hearing these cases.
The Federal Court rejected the argument, ruling that it did have jurisdiction to hear and determine the injunctions and the substantive matters for refugees and people seeking asylum on Manus and Nauru.
However, the decision also means that there are some limits to the jurisdiction. Lawyers are currently reviewing the decision to determine the best way forward for those matters.
Maurice Blackburn’s Jennifer Kanis said the government’s attitude meant asylum seekers had no choice but to fight for their rights through the courts.
“The legal proceeding at the centre of this decision were only initiated when we felt we had run out of other options. These legal proceedings were costly, time consuming, absorbed large amounts of court resources and required hundreds of hours of pro bono work from our lawyers, paralegals and support staff. Counsel routinely had to be engaged, often after hours, and they too acted on a pro bono basis,” Ms Kanis said.
“Not only is it wrong to use a legal process to determine medical treatment, it is also incredibly inefficient, but that was the only option the Federal Government left for countless asylum seekers when they refused to provide urgent medical assistance for people in Australia’s care.
“The government’s approach to this litigation will see further delay in the delivery of much-needed treatment for those concerned. It will also clog up the courts and places an adversarial process at the centre of what should be a discussion about health and medical need.
“It is hard to imagine that most Australians would proudly own a system where the decisions about who gets medical attention are not made by doctors – but are instead subject to a process governed by lawyers and unelected government officials.
“That is a situation that would be deemed utterly unacceptable by most Australians, and it is equally as unacceptable for those people who have been entrusted to Australia’s care,” she said.
What do you think? Is the Government being unnecessarily cruel in its treatment of asylum seekers?