Lawyers representing Manus Island detainees in a class action have welcomed a landmark decision by the Victorian Supreme Court to live-stream the upcoming trial to a global audience.
The Court specifically recognised live-streaming was necessary to ensure access to justice for the significant proportion of group members who had no prospect of attending the hearing in person. Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Rory Walsh said the Court rejected applications to oppose and restrict access to live-streaming.
“The Commonwealth originally opposed live-streaming proceedings completely, even to group members for whom it would be impossible to attend,” Mr Walsh said.
“They later changed their position, arguing access to the stream should not be available to the general public, but instead should be restricted to the group members.
“The Supreme Court rejected this approach, citing the high degree of public interest, which extends well beyond those who live in Victoria.
“We were not surprised the Commonwealth opposed this approach, but we are heartened that the treatment of group members at the Manus Detention Centre will now be properly tested in an Australian Court in an open and publically accessible manner.”
Mr Walsh said this is believed to be an Australian first.
“As far as we’re aware, this is the first time Australian Court proceedings will be streamed overseas,” Mr Walsh said.
“The potential size of the class is 1,905 people, the majority of whom (approximately 1,500) are either overseas or still in detention either on Manus Island or in Australia.
The pursuit of justice on Manus Island
- Five parties including the plaintiff, three defendants (the Commonwealth, G4S, Broadspectrum) and third party (Wilson Security).
- 1,905 group members, covering the overwhelming majority of people detained on Manus Island since 2012.
- More than 200,000 documents discovered during proceedings.
- 104 witness outlines, including 71 filed by the plaintiff and 33 filed by the defendants and third party. Witnesses include detainees currently being held on Manus Island; detainees who were previously held on Manus Island; detainees who were sent to Australia for medical treatment; doctors who worked at the detention centre; security workers; and social workers.
- 28 expert reports, including doctors; psychiatrists; psychologists; security experts; prison inspectors; and prison infrastructure experts.
- An estimated 6 to 7 month trial scheduled to start on 15 May 2017.
"This case will be the largest and most forensic public examination of the events and conditions at the Manus Island Detention centre, which have been shrouded in secrecy until now.
“Live-streaming the trial online means these group members and the general public will be able to view the proceedings that will affect and may finally determine the rights of these detainees.
“We are prepared for a long trial and have fought hard to overcome numerous legal hurdles to ensure the evidence of whistleblowers, experts and, most importantly, the detainees will be heard.”
Background information: Manus Island class action
- The class action will be the first of its kind to be heard by an Australian court and will be the largest ever public examination of conditions and events at the Manus Island centre. It was commenced by Slater and Gordon in December 2014 and goes to trial on 15 May 2017.
- The case is being run on behalf of 1,905 detainees who have been held at the Manus Island centre since 2012. The lead plaintiff is Iranian-born Majid Kamasaee who was detained at the Manus Island Centre for a number of years.
- The defendants to the proceeding are the Commonwealth and its contracted service providers G4S and Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield). The security provider Wilson Security has been separately joined to the proceedings by G4S and Broadspectrum.
- The plaintiff alleges that detainees suffered serious physical and psychological injuries, as a result of the conditions in which they were held on Manus Island between November 2012 and 19 December 2014. That period included the February 2014 riots, in which one detainee was killed and many more seriously injured.
- Group members are also seeking damages in this proceeding for false imprisonment following the decision of the PNG Supreme Court that their detention was unconstitutional.