After a long period of ambivalent rulings, the Australian High Court on Thursday (11 December 2014) finally defined the limits of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
In recent years, many of us in Australia have been disturbed by what seemed to be a routinised indefinite detention of thousands of refugees, including children.
“Since September 2013, the average time spent in detention facilities in Australia has risen from 100 to 350 days, and there are currently nearly 4,000 asylum seekers in detention facilities. These numbers don’t include asylum seekers living in detention in the community” (Guardian Australia 12/9/14).
Thursday’s ruling establishes that governments do not have the power to detain asylum seekers without a legal process of determining “at any time and from time to time” whether the duration of that detention is lawful (para 29).
The lawfulness of such detention, therefore, must be determined and enforced by the courts and, ultimately, by the High Court.
On the surface, this seems to be a landmark affirmation of human rights and the rule of law. But the Abbott government is notoriously slippery – and I for one would not be surprised if they find a way around this ruling.