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Lawyers hoping to finalise Manus Island settlement before centre closes

14 June 2017 9:37 PM
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Lawyers hope to get $70 million in compensation paid to 1900 current and former Manus Island detainees before the offshore immigration detention centre closes in October.

The Australian government and operators of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre settled the detainees' legal action without any admission of liability, in what is believed to be Australia's largest human rights class action settlement.

Most of the $70 million in compensation will be for false imprisonment after a PNG court ruled their detention on Manus was illegal, meaning the length of time each detainee spent in detention will influence the amount they receive.

Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker said the firm will be finalising the details of a settlement distribution scheme in the coming weeks, which will have to be approved by the Victorian Supreme Court.

Mr Baker said each detainee's compensation amount will be calculated individually, with regard to the length of their detention, the events and conditions they experienced, and the severity of any injuries.

Slater and Gordon practice group leader Rory Walsh said the firm wanted to have the vast majority, if not all, of the money distributed to the detainees by the time the Manus Island centre closes on October 31.

"We hope to be able to get the money out to our clients by the end of October, so while they're facing that period of massive uncertainty in their life, they can at least have the compensation that we've achieved in this case."

Most of the class action group members are already dispersed across the globe, including at least 540 who have returned to their country of origin or gone to a third country.

Some are expected to be offered resettlement under Australia's deal with the United States but they otherwise face being sent to another third country or back to their country of origin.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said none of the illegal maritime arrivals on Manus Island or in Nauru will be settled in Australia.

Mr Walsh acknowledged some of the detainees and many advocates may be unhappy that the case settled without going through the six-month trial, which the firm had said would shine a light on the conditions the men experienced on Manus.

"The vast majority we understand and believe welcome an opportunity to settle this case rather than go on for a year or more before they get any compensation."

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns, who has been advising on a separate legal action by detainees in Papua New Guinea that is now likely to be withdrawn, said the settlement made it clear the conditions were not suitable for detaining anyone.

"While we applaud the settlement, let's not forget that part of the motivation may be interpreted as the government not wanting public evidence that would have come out during the hearings, and to avoid the legal precedents that could be set," Mr Barns said.

As well as the false imprisonment claim, the class action sought damages for physical and psychological injuries linked to the conditions in which the detainees were held on Manus Island.


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