Lawyers accuse Commonwealth of delaying justice for asylum seekers ahead of latest court challenge

20 March 2020
Lawyers acting for asylum seekers and refugees who were forced to take legal action to access proper medical care while in offshore detention will today continue to fight for the Commonwealth to take legal responsibility for their care.

Social justice law firm Maurice Blackburn says the Commonwealth’s actions in the courts are preventing people who were detained on Manus Island and Nauru from timely access to justice.

The Commonwealth is arguing that a section of the Migration Act prevents asylum seekers and refugees from bringing legal claims in any court except the High Court.

In August 2019, the Full Federal Court of Australia found against the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth is now seeking special leave to appeal this decision to the High Court of Australia.

More than 50 Federal Court cases relating to the health and medical care provided to refugees and people seeking asylum are currently on hold pending the outcome of the Commonwealth’s application.

“The Commonwealth is going to great lengths to delay outcomes for the children and families who were detained on Nauru and Manus Island,” said Jennifer Kanis, principal lawyer at Maurice Blackburn.

“People seeking asylum have already experienced delays in accessing important healthcare because of the Commonwealth’s offshore detention policy.

“Now these people are facing delays in accessing justice because the Commonwealth insists on fighting their attempts to bring legal action over the poor medical treatment and the harm caused.

“For the people who remain in offshore detention, the situation is dire.  First the Commonwealth repealed the Medevac legislation, which was an efficient, patient-centred means of providing medical care. Now they are trying to stop access to the Federal Court, which was the last resort to get the Commonwealth to provide urgent medical care.”

Ms Kanis, who heads the social justice practice at Maurice Blackburn, made the comments ahead of today’s High Court hearing in Melbourne on the Commonwealth’s application to appeal.

Maurice Blackburn and the National Justice Project act for refugees in the four test cases involved in today’s hearing.

The case has the potential to impact all cases where refugees and asylum seekers that were detained on Nauru and Manus Island are seeking to argue that the Commonwealth failed to provide appropriate levels of medical care as well as any future claims for people who remain on Nauru and Manus Island.

These cases involve children, women and families with a range of serious physical and mental health issues, some that were life threatening including viral encephalitis and heart conditions.

Since 2018, Maurice Blackburn has acted for more than 30 asylum seekers and refugees needing urgent medical care, of which the youngest was a six-month-old child.

Media alert:

What: The High Court will hear oral submissions regarding the special leave application
Where: The Commonwealth Law Courts Building, 305 Williams Street, Melbourne
When: Friday 20 March at 930am
Who: Jennifer Kanis of Maurice Blackburn is available for interview before and after the hearing.

Media inquiries: Chee Chee Leung at Maurice Blackburn, 0412 560 584 or

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