A huge class action against the federal government on behalf of 1900 asylum seekers detained on Manus Island has reached settlement, with Australia agreeing to a huge compensation payout of $70 million.
Law firm Slater and Gordon confirmed to HuffPost Australia that the case -- which had been due to finally commence on Wednesday after being delayed for several weeks -- was adjourned after the parties reached settlement on Wednesday.
"After three years investigation and legal action, the Commonwealth and its subcontractors, G4S and broad-spectrum, have agreed to a settlement of $70 million plus costs," Slater and Gordon lawyer Andrew Baker said.
"The Senate said this was the largest settlement in a human rights class-action in Australian legal history and we think this is true.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Iranian man Majid Kamasaee, who was detained in the Manus facility for several years, but the class action also includes 1905 men who were held at the centre between November 2012 and December 2014. The case alleged the Commonwealth of Australia, plus service providers G4S and Broadspectrum, provided conditions inside the Manus centre which led to detainees suffering "serious physical and psychological injuries". The case also alleged false imprisonment of asylum seekers, after Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that detaining asylum seekers on Manus breached the country's constitution.
"This settlement is an important step towards recognising the extremely hostile conditions the detainees endured at Manus Island," Baker said on Wednesday.
"No amount of money will be able to fully recognise the terrible conditions these detainees have had to endure but with today's settlement we hope they can provide an opportunity to put this dark chapter of their lives behind them. Today's result is a strong reminder of the role the legal system can play in holding government and corporations accountable."
In a statement, immigration minister Peter Dutton blamed Labor for the situation, and said the settlement did not mean the government admitted guilt.
"Labor imposed this cost on Australians when it handed control of the nation's borders to criminal people-smuggling syndicates. The Commonwealth is required by the Legal Services Directions to endeavour to avoid, prevent or limit the scope of legal proceedings...An anticipated six month legal battle for this case would have cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees alone, with an unknown outcome. In such circumstances a settlement was considered a prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers," he said.
"The Commonwealth strongly refutes and denies the claims made in these proceedings. Settlement is not an admission of liability in any regard."
"The lead plaintiff alleges the Commonwealth was in effective control of the Manus Island Detention Centre at all relevant times, and thereby owed a duty of care to the detainees being held there. He similarly alleges the false imprisonment of the detainees was done by the Commonwealth and its service providers," Slater and Gordon said in a statement in February.
Greens senator Nick McKim said the settlement was "an admission by Peter Dutton that he is responsible for the illegal detention and deliberate harm of people seeking asylum in Australia."
"By accepting this settlement, Peter Dutton takes responsibility for the deaths, the serious injuries, the torture and the ongoing harm to Manus Island detainees," McKim said in a statement following the settlement announcement.
"This gives the lie to Dutton's claim that what is happening on Manus Island is not his responsibility. That fiction is now over. Justice demands that these men now be brought to Australia."
More to come.
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