Asylum seeker court hearing is brought forward

Law courtsThe high court has convened a special hearing on Monday afternoon about the case of 157 asylum seekers who spent weeks at sea.

The hearing will be held at 2.15pm and consider the detention and processing of the Tamil asylum seekers who the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has confirmed are now at Curtin immigration detention centre in Western Australia.

The case had been set to go before a full bench of the high court in early August. But since the parties agreed on the case the circumstances of the asylum seekers’ detention has rapidly changed.

They had been held on board the customs vessel Ocean Protector for weeks, but over the weekend the asylum seekers were transferred to the Cocos Islands.

Morrison rejected suggestions on Monday morning that the government had brought the asylum seekers onshore because it expected to be defeated in the high court.

“No. These issues are completely separate matters. We’ve been fully compliant with the court on the process that they’re undertaking. We’ll continue to do so. We’ve given various undertakings to the court which we have honoured in every aspect and we’ll continue to do that,” he told ABC radio.

The immigration minister confirmed the asylum seekers had been brought to Curtin, and said the government left open the possibility of sending them to Nauru or Manus Island.

“The offshore processing options remain open to the government in relation to this caseload of people that have come by this method and the government reserves those options,” he said.

All of the asylum seekers have now been flown to the remote Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.

The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said: “Just as the high court is going to hear this on 5 August we’ve got the government, having held people on the high seas for weeks on end, now bringing them to Australia but bringing in the Indian government to assess them. This is all wrong.”

The refugee lawyer David Manne also confirmed he had been approached to help some of the asylum seekers on board the vessel.

“We have been approached to provide legal assistance and currently that issue is in train,” he said.

“The next issue is now that they’re in Australia the ordinary protections of Australian law must be afforded to these people. In what way it will apply and how will depend on their predicament.”

In a controversial decision Morrison said last week he would allow “consular access” by Indian officials, who would be able to directly interview the asylum seekers.

On Monday a spokesman from the Indian high commission told Guardian Australia it had not had a request from the Australian government regarding the asylum seekers.

“We have not yet received a request official communication from Australian authorities to speak with the individuals,” he said.

Manne questioned the characterisation of the consular access in this case. “The concept and practice of consular access is ordinarily directed at nationals of a country being able to access their authorities,” he said.

“On the information at hand it’s completely unclear what role India could properly have in this process. It’s a fundamental principle of refugee law that no person should have to deal with or interact with the authorities of another country without first having their claims for protection assessed. Before any such steps are taken we must first establish these people’s predicament.” (The Guardian)

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