, but it has recently notched a major win under its belt and is due for a windfall.
The firm has won a $70m conditional settlement for 1,905 detainees at the Manus Island immigration detention centre who were held between 21 November 2012 and 12 May 2016. The victory is being billed as the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian legal history.
The firm went up against the Commonwealth of Australia and contract service providers G4S and Broadspectrum, formerly known as Transfield. Wilson Security was separately joined to the proceedings by original corporate defendants.
In addition to the primary settlement for the plaintiff, the defendants have agreed to separately cover all the legal fees associated with the class action. Slater and Gordon said that the costs are expected to be more than $20m, including disbursements, such as barrister and expert witness fees. These will be assessed and approved by the court.
“The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence. Most were fleeing religious persecution and violence and came to Australia seeking protection, only to be denied their basic human rights,” said Andrew Baker, Slater and Gordon principal lawyer on the matter.
“While no amount of money could fully recognise the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today’s settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them,” he added.
Baker said that this was one of the most complicated class action suits the firm has overseen.
“By sheer numbers, this is one of the largest class actions Slater and Gordon has ever run. We have appeared in court more than 50 times, conducted more than 200 witness interviews and analysed more than 200,000 discovered documents. We dealt with 11 judgments resulting from 28 applications to the court, ranging from public interest immunity challenges, discovery orders and then class closure and common issues applications were thrown at us in the weeks leading up to the trial date,” Baker said.
The firm is grateful to the more than 70 witnesses that gave evidence, said Baker. The group included doctors, health workers, security workers, social workers, and the detainees.
“Reliving their experiences to provide evidence was incredibly traumatic, but crucial to this case, and we would like to pay tribute to the courage and strength of the Manus Island detainees. This was a long battle for social justice, but we hope that today’s result, and the three years of work preceding it, helps to ensure the voices of the Manus Island detainees have finally been heard,” said Baker.
The scheme to distribute the settlement will be finalised in the coming weeks and submitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria for approval.
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