Reports that asylum seekers on Christmas Island are being questioned by police without a lawyer present have been met with outrage by the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
The ABC's Radio Australia News today (23 March) reported that Australian Federal Police are investigating last week's detention centre riots, and concerns have been raised that those detainees being questioned do not have access to legal representation because there are no criminal lawyers on the island.
"If it if happening, it is outrageous," said ALA director Greg Barns.
"The law in this area says that any admissions or confessions which are obtained after a person has requested a lawyer, and that lawyer is unavailable, can be excluded from evidence."
Barns added that the only way in which the police can knock back a request for a lawyer is if there is a particular urgency or a life and death situation.
"That is not the case here," he said, "The reality is that if these people were charged or being investigated on the mainland of Australia, irrespective of where they were, they would have access to legal advice."
Around 250 asylum seekers last week rioted for several consecutive days, setting fire to parts of the detention centre and causing more than 200 detainees to be relocated. Federal police used tear gas and bean-bag rounds to quell the riots.
Barns stressed that those asylum seekers now under investigation are extremely vulnerable and must be afforded independent legal assistance.
"You are dealing with people who have got language barriers and very little understanding, if any, of Australian law," he said.
"They don't understand their rights, so it is important that those people have the law explained to them. It is very important, when dealing with vulnerable groups, that they always have access to independent legal advice, not simply what the police tell them."
According to Barns, the current situation is a direct result of the government's approach to asylum seekers.
"It is just typical of the legal 'no man's land' and the undermining of the rule of law that happens in the current system of offshore processing of asylum seekers," he said.
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