The Asylum Seeker’s High Court Challenge – What’s Happened So Far?

With the High Court imposing a last minute injunction that prevents the Federal Government from returning a second load of Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers back to Sri Lanka, the court has sat today to hear the case put forth on behalf of those held at sea.

Here’s a no-frills run down of what’s happened.
Firstly, the main players involved:
Ron Merkel, QC – Main legal representative for the Asylum Seekers.
Justin Gleeson, QC – Main legal representative for the Government.
Justice Susan Crennan – High Court judge sitting the case for today.
So what’s happened?
– Firstly, we’ve officially learned what’s happened to the 153 Asylum Seekers. They were intercepted by Australian forces not in territorial waters, but in the contiguous zone. The Government argues that this means the people on board are not subject to protection under the Migration Act. The side for the Asylum Seekers is likely to question Australia’s right to intercept given that it wasn’t within the boundaries of our sovereignty. The people have been since been transferred to the High Seas, where they are currently being kept.

– Merkel’s case put forth does not necessarily refute the Government’s ability to send the Asylum Seekers to somewhere other than Australia, rather it argues that the Commonwealth, under the constitution, does not have the executive power to send them back to Sri Lanka, their place of origin.

– At least 21, possibly as many as 29, of the people on board are minors, some as young as 2 years old. Merkel is appearing on behalf of 50 of the Asylum Seekers, of which 8 are minors, and 21 are women.

– The boat departed from Pondicherry, in Southern India. It is understood that prior to this, most, if not all, people had been living in a refugee camp in the Tamil Nadu region of Sri Lanka.

– Merkel argued that Australia planned to, involuntarily and by coercion, return the boat, and everyone on board, to Sri Lanka, and that this would have been of Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

– In response to this, Gleeson gave an assurance that the Government would enter in to an undertaking that it would not move to send the Asylum Seekers to Sri Lanka without giving 72 hours written notice beforehand. This does not prevent the Government from moving them to another country for processing.

– Justice Clennan ruled that it’s in the best interests of the case for it to be heard by the full bench of the High Court as soon as possible.

The long and short of it is that the case remains open, and – at least for the time being – the Asylum Seekers will remain at sea. Though the Government at this stage seems unlikely to return them to Sri Lanka.

This story will continue to develop over the coming days.

Photo: Stefan Postles via Getty Images.