The Sunday Leader

Case On 157 Lankans Set For October

The Australian High Court will hold a special case hearing in October to probe whether the commonwealth had the power to detain 157 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers at sea outside Australian waters, an Australian newspaper reported. Justice Kenneth Hayne today fixed the case brought by legal representatives of the asylum-seekers for a two-day hearing in Canberra.

The court will consider whether the Abbott government acted lawfully under the Maritime Powers Act when it detained a vessel with 157 asylum-seekers, transferred them to an Australian vessel and held them outside Australia’s territorial waters while seeking Indian cooperation to repatriate them. The asylum-seekers — mainly Tamils who had fled Sri Lanka to India — were eventually brought to the Curtin Detention Centre but were sent to Nauru after declining to meet with Indian officials.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Australian Human Rights Commission are expected to intervene in the case. Outside court, George Newhouse representing the asylum-seekers said the case would decide whether the government could hold asylum-seekers “virtually prisoners” on the seas. “This is a case that’s never been tested before and the power of the government to undertake such actions is in question,” he said. “What Australia is doing on the high seas does affect international law and the approach of other countries to refugees on the high seas. “This has important implications not just to Australia, but for all nations.” The hearing has been set for October 14 and 15.

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