High Court Backs Government Over Detention Of Tamil Asylum Seekers At Sea

Suspected asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island. Photo: Getty Images

The Australian High Court has found that detaining 157 Tamil asylum seekers on the high seas in 2014 by the Abbott Government was legal in a majority decision handed down today.

The decision dismisses a damages claim for false imprisonment.

The case was lodged by a Christian Tamil Sri Lankan known as CPCF in the proceedings. He was on a boat that set sail from India in June 2014. It became the only boat to reach Australia last year when it was intercepted 16 nautical miles off Christmas Island on June 29.

The group were transferred to the customs vessel Ocean Protector after their boat was deemed unseaworthy and spent four weeks aboard as the Australian government considered returning them to India. That plan was abandoned after about three weeks and on July 27, the 157 asylum seekers were sent to the Cocos Islands before being transferred to a mainland detention centre and then Nauru.

The plaintiff alleged that his detention on the Ocean Protector was unlawful and claimed damages for wrongful imprisonment.

The High Court determined that the detention was lawful under the Maritime Powers Act and was not subject to an obligation to afford the plaintiff procedural fairness in a 4/3 majority to dismiss the case.

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