A AUD$70 million conditional settlement has been reached in Australia in the Manus Island detainees class action being run by Australian law firm Slater and Gordon Lawyers, the firm says.
It has been said to be the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian legal history.
The case was brought on behalf of 1,905 detainees who were held at the Manus Island Detention Centre between 21 November 2012 and 12 May 2016.
The defendants to the proceeding were the Commonwealth of Australia and its contracted service providers G4S and Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield). Security provider Wilson Security was separately joined to the proceedings by G4S and Broadspectrum.
The lead plaintiff is 35 year old Majid Kamasaee who fled Iran due to religious persecution in 2013 and was detained at the centre for 11 months.
The plaintiff alleged that detainees suffered serious physical and psychological injuries, as a result of the conditions in which they were held on Manus Island between 21 November 2012 and 19 December 2014. That period included the February 2014 attack on the Centre, in which one detainee was killed and dozens were seriously injured.
A second claim for false imprisonment was added to the action in 2016, following a ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was unlawful and in breach of Papua New Guinea’s constitution.
The lead plaintiff alleged the Commonwealth was in effective control of the Manus Island centre at all relevant times, and thereby owed a duty of care to the detainees being held there. He similarly alleged the false imprisonment of the detainees was done by the Commonwealth and its service providers.
Detainees endured extremely hostile conditions
In a statement, Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Andrew Baker says the settlement reflects the unquestionable importance of access to justice.
“The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence,” Mr Baker says
“Most were fleeing religious persecution and violence and came to Australia seeking protection, only to be denied their basic human rights. The security issues at the Centre are well documented and culminated in the tragic, foreseeable and foreseen February 2014 attack on the Centre, where one detainee was killed and dozens of others were injured.
“We’ve heard from other detainees who also report experiencing wholly inadequate medical attention, evidenced by two men who died from medical complications that arose on Manus Island.
“This is not an environment that any person with another safe option would choose to live in.
“While no amount of money could fully recognise the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today’s settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them.”
Defendants to cover legal fees
The defendants, the Commonwealth, G4S and Broadspectrum and third party Wilson Security have agreed to separately cover all of the legal fees associated with this class action.
The costs are expected to be more than $20 million, including disbursements, such as barrister and expert witness fees, and will be independently assessed and subject to the approval of the court. This is separate from the group members’ settlement amount.
Mr Baker says countless legal hurdles were overcome during legal proceedings. The class action was commenced in December 2014.
“By sheer numbers, this is one of the largest class actions Slater and Gordon has ever run,” he says..
“We have appeared in court more than 50 times, conducted more than 200 witness interviews and analysed more than 200,000 discovered documents.
“We dealt with 11 judgments resulting from 28 applications to the court, ranging from public interest immunity challenges, discovery orders and then class closure and common issues applications were thrown at us in the weeks leading up to the trial date."
A settlement distribution scheme will be finalised in coming weeks and submitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria.