Decision to halt judge's probe into Manus conditions faces appeal

Asylum seekers stare at media from behind a fence, as a sign orders guards to carry hooked "hoffman" knives, used to cut the rope of asylum seekers who attempt to hang themselves at the Manus Island detention centre. (AAP)

Human rights lawyers says they are hoping the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea will allow a judge to continue his inquiry into the conditions at the Manus Island immigration detention centre.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The Papua New Guinea government has lodged an appeal to try shut down the inquiry by Justice David Cannings, accusing the judge of bias.

PNG's Supreme Court will hear an appeal on Wednesday over the actions of Justice David Cannings who's a member of the country's National Court.

National Court judges have the power to call and conduct investigations independent of the government, and that's exactly what Justice Cannings did following the death of Reza Berati, the 22-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who died during riots at the Manus facility in February.

The judge wasn't investigating the riot itself but he was trying to determine whether the conditions on Manus comply with the human rights standards of the PNG constitution.

Lawyers for the PNG government had tried to convince Justice Cannings to abandon his inquiry on the grounds of bias, which is something he rejected.

That enabled Justice Cannings to continue his investigation which saw him visit the detention centre, take evidence from detainees and allow journalists inside the facility.

Human Rights lawyer Daniel Webb says the Cannings inquiry had to be put on hold because of a PNG government appeal which will be heard today in the Supreme Court.

"Late last week the judge initiated inquiry was temporarily placed on hold while the government of Papua New Guinea appealed against the judges refusal to disqualify himself. Now the first step of that appeal will be heard this afternoon and depending on the outcome the inquiry into the human rights situation on Manus might be back on foot tomorrow morning."

While one inquiry is on hold for now, there's a second inquiry which PNG also wants to stop and it too was called by Justice Cannings over the weekend.

He allowed Sydney barrister Jay Williams to take affidavits from the detainees and Mr Williams has now lodged a legal challenge on their behalf.

Mr Williams argues they're being detained unlawfully on Manus because they were deported by Australia against their will; that ther detention is arbitary and indefinite; and that the conditions in the centre are inhumane and degrading.  

Kate Schuetze from Amnesty International hopes Justice Cannings will be allowed to continue his investigation.

"Asylum seekers have been detained on Manus for quite a long time now and the fact that no one seems to know that they, they may have rights that they can choose to exercise under the Papua New Guinea laws."

The Australian Greens say they're concerned about the recent developments.

Deputy leader Adam Bandt says the Australian government must seek answers over the death of Reza Berati.

"We have to get to the bottom of why someone who was in our care and who arrived on our doorstep seeking our help was brutally killed in a detention centre that was ultimately Australia's responsibility."

Source SBS

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