Witnesses urged to come forward with information about conditions and treatment of Christmas Island detainees − without risking criminal sanctions

14 January 2016
Anyone with information about the conditions and treatment of detainees on Christmas Island is being urged by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to come forward, to assist with a class action the firm is running on behalf of asylum seekers.

The firm is particularly keen to speak to former detention centre workers, medical and allied health professionals who provided care to detainees, interpreters and anyone else who had contact with those detained on Christmas Island between August 2011 and August 2014.

The names and addresses of potential witnesses, and information about their roles on Christmas Island, will be provided to the Victorian Supreme Court on 1 February when the case returns to court, ahead of a trial that is set to begin in September 2016.

The court will inspect that list and, if satisfied, grant orders that will enable the social justice lawyers handling the class action to conduct more extensive interviews with the witnesses − without the witnesses facing criminal or other charges under the Australian Border Force Act 2015.

These controversial provisions of the Act, introduced into Parliament last February, make it a criminal offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment for current and former “entrusted persons” to disclose, without authorisation, “protected information” acquired while working for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection at detention centres.

Jacob Varghese, Maurice Blackburn’s class actions principal, said this was “a significant opportunity for witnesses to provide relevant information about the conditions of detention on Christmas Island without fear of criminal sanction.

“Maurice Blackburn is committed to taking all necessary legal steps to enable those witnesses to do so,” he said. “It is important that the Court, and the Australian community, hear from people with first-hand experience of how Australia has treated asylum seekers, including children and pregnant women, detained on Christmas Island.”

The lead plaintiff in the class action is a young girl who can only be identified as ‘AS’. She brings her case against the Commonwealth of Australia and the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection.International Health and Medical Services Pty Ltd and the detention centre’s operators Serco Australia Pty Ltd are also parties to the action.

It is alleged that the Commonwealth and Minister failed to take reasonable care to prevent AS and other asylum seekers from sustaining injuries while in detention. The class action also claims that they failed to provide reasonable health care for AS and other asylum seekers after they were injured while in detention.

Anyone with information is urged to call Maurice Blackburn on 1800 286 052 by 29 January 2016. More about the class action is available at: http://www.mauriceblackburn.com.au/current-class-actions/people-detained-on-christmas-island

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