The case will argue the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island has breached at least 8 parts of PNG’s constitution, including the right to liberty, freedom of movement, information about detention and access to a lawyer.
Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia approved a move to join 277 new applicants to the original 25 asylum seekers who started the case.
“I will be travelling to Manus [Island] and will spend 21 days to collate the 277 signed affidavits for filing by the first week of August,” Ben Lomai, the lawyer representing the asylum seekers, said.
The legal action began when 25 asylum seekers were jailed without charge during unrest in January and were able to make contact with a lawyer while in a provincial prison.
The case has been filed against PNG’s chief migration officer, immigration minister and the state.
Australia’s role in the case remains unclear.
“We are aware of the case being run by Mr Lomai in PNG on behalf of a number of detainees in Manus … [but] the Commonwealth has not been served documents in relation to this case,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said.
However, Mr Lomai said he has served documents on the Commonwealth of Australia via diplomatic channels that were suggested by the Australian High Commission.
“If the court finds in favour of the applicants there are serious implications for the Commonwealth of Australia, because I will be asking for [the asylum seekers] to be released to the first port of entry, which is Australia,” he said.
The case is one of numerous legal challenges to the Australian-funded processing of asylum seekers on PNG’s remote Manus Island.
Former PNG opposition leader Belden Namah launched a Supreme Court challenge last year, which has since become bogged down in the court system.
Australia has funded PNG’s legal challenge against Mr Namah’s case.
In March, PNG judge David Cannings launched a Human Rights Inquiry into conditions for asylum seekers, allowing rare media access to the detention centre.
The PNG government stayed that case, citing conflict of interest, and Justice Cannings promptly launched a second human rights inquiry into whether asylum seekers’ rights were being denied.
Separately, asylum seekers are undertaking a class action in the Victorian Supreme Court, suing the Commonwealth for negligence relating to the standard of care provided at the detention centre and for psychological injury caused by conditions.
There were 943 asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island — according to Australian immigration figures from May 31 — and approximately 40 refugees at a transit centre awaiting permanent resettlement.
Some of the men have been on the island for almost two years and the PNG government is yet to form a policy on how to resettle them in other parts of the nation.