Maurice Blackburn has been granted leave to commence Supreme Court proceedings against the Australian Government over an alleged failure to provide proper consular advice to an Australian sexual assault victim.
Brisbane woman Alicia Gali claims she was drugged and sexually assaulted by colleagues when working at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, in 2008. When she reported the assault, she was jailed for eight months for having sex outside of marriage.
In March this year, the firm launched legal action on behalf of Gali against her former employer alleging that the hotel had breached its obligations by failing to have proper systems in place to protect workers against being drugged, assault and its potential consequences.
Michelle James, the Maurice Blackburn principal acting for Gali, said there were now strong grounds for examining the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) role in Gali's ordeal.
"Over the past few months, further information has come to light about what embassy staff did and did not do for Ms Gali," said James.
"The embassy did not warn Ms Gali about the dangers of reporting a rape. If Ms Gali had received the right advice and not reported the sexual assault she would not have gone to prison."
According to James, when Gali realised something terrible had happened to her she called the Australian embassy in Dubai to seek assistance because she required medical attention. Her employer had unlawfully held her passport and she was very distressed. Gali told the embassy she believed she had been sexually assaulted but the embassy did not help her recover her passport.
Under UAE law it is illegal to have extramarital sex, and Gali was charged and convicted of "consensual sex". Rape is only considered a crime if four adult male Muslims witness the incident. The men involved in the incident were also jailed for "consensual sex" and served the same jail time as Gali.
"We are widening the claim to include the DFAT because it failed in its obligations to Ms Gali. The embassy's deficient advice led to Ms Gali spending a hellish eight months in prison," said James.
"Ms Gali was not told she could be jailed for reporting a sexual assault. If she had known that, she would not have reported the assault and would have tried to leave the country immediately. She was advised that, if she has drugs in her system, she could be prosecuted and that the penalties for taking drugs were very harsh, including life imprisonment. She was told, 'You should reconsider your need to be in this country at this time'."