THE LAW Institute of Victoria has urged federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock to intervene and assist a team of Australian lawyers to travel to Nauru to help determine the legality of detaining asylum seekers on the island nation before the Nauruan Supreme Court.
The Australian lawyers were seeking to ensure that the asylum seekers’ arguments on the legality of their detention in Nauru were argued fully and expertly.
Following reports last week that the asylum seekers in Nauru were instead being represented by a local paralegal — actually Nauruan justice minister Russell Kun’s uncle — the Law Institute said it was unlikely all the legal arguments would be expertly argued.
The paralegal pleader will reportedly only read notes prepared by Melbourne lawyer Julian Burnside QC, and will not argue the case. In contrast, senior Australian lawyers, paid by the Australian Government, will represent the Nauruan and Australian governments. The Law Institute noted that the judgement of the Supreme Court was therefore unlikely to command respect.
The furore followed recent events which saw representatives for the asylum seekers, led by Burnside, prevented from entering Nauru because of visa difficulties.
It has been reported that a spokesperson for the Nauruan Government said the Minister for Justice had blocked the team’s visas on the basis that there was sufficient representation for the asylum seekers on the island.
Victorian Bar Council chairman Robin Brett QC claimed this was no justification. “Justice requires that every litigant should have the right to be represented by the lawyer of his or her choice. No government should dictate to litigants which qualified lawyers they are and are not permitted to retain.”
“When the government is itself a party to the litigation, as it is in this case, the injustice is even greater,” Brett said.
Holding the detainees for the Australian Government, reportedly for hundreds of millions of dollars, Nauru is helping Australia achieve its so-called Pacific Solution.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, is quoted in The Age on 27 April this year as saying that the Australian Government has “nothing to do with the matter and the question of legal representation for the asylum seekers is simply a matter for the Nauruan Government”.
The acting president of the Law Institute, Bill O’Shea, said given that the Nauruan Government was detaining asylum seekers in accordance with arrangements made with the Australian Government, the case was also a matter for the Australian Government.
The Law Institute urged the federal Attorney-General to intervene by encouraging the Nauruan Government, “with the full weight of your office”, to restore the Australian lawyers’ visas so they could represent the asylum seekers.