Written on the 13 February 2015 by Jenna Rathbone


THE legal team that fought for the freedom of baby Ferouz and his asylum seeking family has been awarded the 2015 Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) Queensland Civil Justice Award. 

The pro-bono case which involved the Myuddin family, who had been involved in a lengthy legal battle with the federal government, argued that son Ferouz deserved a protection visa because he was born in Australia.

The legal team comprising solicitor Angus Francis from not-for-profit Refugee and Immigration Legal Service, Maurice Blackburn Senior Associate Murray Watt, and Barristers Mark Steele, Matt Black, Stephen Keim SC and Walter Sofronoff QC, along with the parents of baby Ferouz, were presented with the award at the ALA's Queensland State Conference.

Speaking at the conference, Watt says he and his team took the case not only for Ferouz and his family but because they could see the case had broader implications for the Australian community as a whole.

"It was a real opportunity to put a spotlight on Australia's practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, particularly children," says Watts.

"To some extent I feel like I am up here under false pretences receiving a legal award because the fact was out of the various legal challenges we launched in this fight, we lost every single one of them.

"But I would ask you to ignore that and recognise that on the day the appeal judgement was due from the full federal court, the government announced it was going to release families and in fact after we began our legal challenge, the government introduced and eventually passed legislation which was retrospective in its operation.

"I think this is a classic case of having lost the battle but winning the war."

Following the unsuccessful legal appeal seeking the right to apply for a protection visa, the Coalition announced Ferouz and 30 other babies, born to illegal maritime arrivals, could apply for short-term visas while their families' refugee claims were assessed.

Watts says the Myuddin family are relieved to finally be out of detention and lead a normal life.

"Although I think it is fair to say that they are still coming to grips with the idea that they can actually walk where they want, when they want, having spent 16 months in detention in Australia and prior to that probably the best part of 10 years living in refugee camps in other parts of the world," says Watts.

"It is overwhelming for them but they are pretty darn happy."

ALA Queensland President Michelle James says the team was a worthy recipient of the award for its unwavering pursuit of justice and its appeal of every legal challenge that came the family's way, on a pro-bono basis.

"The baby Ferouz case was a landmark case for two reasons - firstly, it led to 31 babies being released from detention and gave them the legal right to seek temporary protection in Australia," says James.

"Further, it played an historic role in giving a face to the many hundreds of children still living in detention centres today. This case blew open the national debate once again to demand a fair go for people."

James adds over the 14 month period that the legal team fought to save baby Ferouz from a lifetime in detention, a number of landmark legal actions were undertaken on behalf of the family.

"These included seeking urgent injunctions to stop the family being transferred to Nauru, lodging challenges to the Migration Act seeking to test the definition where a baby born in Australia to asylum seeker parents was deemed to be an 'Unauthorised Maritime Arrival', lodging a citizenship application on behalf of Ferouz, and related submissions, hearings, applications and appeals heard before the Federal Court and the High Court," she says.

Ferouz was born in Brisbane's Mater Hospital in November 2013 after his mother, Latifar, was transferred from the detention centre on Nauru due to concerns about her pregnancy.

The family including his father and two siblings arrived on Christmas Island from Myanmar three months before Ferouz's birth in September 2013.  They were fleeing persecution as minority Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Picture L-R: Benedict Coyne, Angus Francis, Mark Steele, Stephen Keim SC, Murray Watt.

Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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