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Court challenges harshness of Government refugee policy

The Family Court has mounted a major challenge to the detention of children under Australian immigration laws and claimed the right to order their release. Detaining children under such laws is probably illegal, the court ruled yesterday in a decision that could affect 108 children now in custody.

The decision is a blow to the Federal Government's detention practices, the court claimed the right to order the release of children on welfare grounds, saying that its responsibility for their well-being overrode immigration law.

A majority decision of the full Family Court upheld the appeal of two boys and their three sisters against an earlier ruling that the court had no jurisdiction over children in detention. The court ordered that the case of the children – boys aged 14 and 12 and girls 11, nine and six – be retried urgently. The court found that the continued detention of the five children, whose whose parents are also held under immigration law, "raises the very real possibility of these children spending their entire childhood in detention".

Marc Purcell, Executive Officer of the Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace, Melbourne said, "The Family Court's decision has broken the back of the harmful practice of long term detention of kids. There is not a child specialist in the country who will argue that detention of children is beneficial – it is a very harmful practice and the Family Court had recognized this in its ruling. To continue to detain children after this decision would be negligent."


CCJD&P Media Release
Family Court Decision

20 Jun 2003