Villawood Letter Sparks Lawyer’s Criticism

Villawood letter sparks lawyer's criticism

Connie Levett
Immigration Reporter
The Sydney Morning Herald
December 6, 2007

THE Australian Government Solicitor's office has sent an “intimidatory” letter to the lawyer of the Iraqi asylum seeker Ali Al Jenabi after Immigration Department documents related to his case were published this week.

Mr Al Jenabi, detained in Villawood detention centre for 17 months, has taken the Minister for Immigration to court to force him to make a decision on his application for a protection visa. By law, the minister is required to make a decision within 90 days; the application was lodged in June 2006.

The documents, the Herald reported, revealed Immigration found it had “protection obligations” to Mr Al Jenabi in December last year, but the case remains mired in red tape because of departmental disagreement over character issues.

Mr Al Jenabi, who spent six years in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison after refusing to fight for Saddam Hussein, also served four years in Darwin jail for people smuggling.

The letter from the Australian Government Solicitor's office comes a week after the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, promised to “encourage a culture of disclosure within government departments”.

The letter said: “Please confirm whether your firm or your client was the source of this information,” the letter said. “If so, we consider this a breach of your implied undertaking to the court not to use those documents except for the purposes of these proceedings. Accordingly, our client is considering what action should be taken.”

Mr Al Jenabi's solicitor, Stephen Blanks, described the letter as intimidatory, and designed to “prevent the truth coming out about the way Mr Al Jenabi has been treated”.

“They want to control the flow of information – we saw it in the [Mohamed] Haneef case,” Mr Blanks said.

An Immigration spokesman described the department as a model litigant which did not want to agitate matters before court in the media. “[The Australian Government Solicitor's] letter is seeking to remind Mr Blanks of his obligations relative to his implied undertakings”.