YESTERDAY I attended the Madang hearing by Justice David Cannings on the issue of the human rights of asylum seekers in Manus. I was surprised by the lack of interest shown.
Apart from the three lawyers, one for the government, one for the detainees (Public Solicitor’s Office) and one for opposition leader Belden Namah, no one else indicated that they had an interest in the case. Including me, there were only three people in court.
Namah’s lawyer argued that the detention centre was against the PNG Constitution but the judge reminded him that the Supreme Court was currently hearing that case and the case in question was strictly a hearing about the human rights of the detainees.
Judge Canning gave an update on the proceedings so far and instructed Frazer Pit Pit, the Public Solicitor, to visit Manus at the earliest in order to collect evidence from the detainees.
Mr Pit Pit told the Court that his officers had already tried to visit the detainees but were initially refused entry. They were required to fill in a form with the name of the detainee they wished to speak to and then the form was sent to Port Moresby for the Chief Migration Officer’s approval.
However, when the court order was produced they did begin to make preparations for the lawyers to visit.
The court will sit in Lorengau from 17-21 March to hear evidence from detainees. The following week it will sit in Port Moresby to complete taking submissions and the judge hopes to hand down his decision by the end of the month.
Judge Canning stressed that this was an enquiry not a trial and therefore it is non-adversarial.
The judge is bringing a doctor with 37 years’ experience in PNG from Australia to assist the court in judging the living conditions in the centre.