There have been many legal challenges to Australia’s policy of offshore processing. Many of these in Australia have failed, although there have been some important rulings and changes as a result.
The High Court had previously upheld the constitutionality of detention in Nauru under the Pacific Solution.
Similarly, the High Court upheld the detention of people on Manus Island detention centre under Australian law in June 2014.
Legal challenges did, however, lead to the ‘opening’ of the detention centres in PNG and Nauru. In October 2015, the detention centre became an ‘open centre’, which people were allowed to leave at any time. However, it took much longer before all refugees were moved out of the centre. This happened just before a court challenge in Australia to the legality of offshore processing in Nauru.
To limit the effectiveness of this challenge, Parliament retrospectively authorised spending money on offshore processing. While the legal challenge failed, a campaign to #LetThemStay has meant that those transferred to Australia have not, so far, been returned to Nauru or Manus Island.
A further legal challenge to the right of the Australian government to send people to Manus Island also failed in August 2017.
Another legal challenge was more successful, with the Australian government paying a record $70 million to those detained on Manus Island to settle a class action in Victoria.
While legal challenges in Australia have mostly failed, in April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court found that the detention in PNG breached its constitution. Despite this, hundreds of men continued to live there, although they were allowed greater freedom of movement.