Reaching behind iron bars: challenges to the detention of asylum seekers

Kristie Dunn
Jessica Howard, University of Melbourne


Recent legal challenges to the detention of asylum seekers in Australia have exposed some limits on the power of the executive government to detain asylum seekers. We set out the legal basis for the current mandatory detention regime in Australia, discuss recent legal challenges to the regime, and compare the Australian and British approaches to detention, focusing on the impact of international law. We suggest that although recent successes in Australian courts are significant, more comprehensive challenges to the constitutional validity of the regime may be possible in the future, particularly if greater emphasis is placed on Australia’s international obligations.

Kristie Dunn is a lawyer and freelance writer. Her email address is <>. Jessica Howard is a PhD Candidate in the Law Faculty at the University of Melbourne. She can be contacted at <>.This article is based on a paper presented at the ‘Immigration and Human Rights: European Experiences and Australian Resonances’ conference held by the Contemporary Europe Research Centre, University of Melbourne on 8 November 2002.

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