One of Australia’s major immigration detention centres has been scolded by a tribunal for repeatedly bringing people late to hearings.
Thierry Mukiza, a Rwandan migrant who was appealing the cancellation of his visa, was scheduled to have a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal at 10am on Oct. 23, 2019.
But at 10am, Mukiza wasn’t there.
He had been detained at Villawood Detention Centre, in Sydney's west, since early 2019. Villawood is managed by private contractor Serco.
In the days before the hearing, his solicitors confirmed with Serco and Australian Border Force that his presence would be required. His barrister Jason Donnelly wrote a separate email to let them know his presence would be required.
But Villawood officers brought him at around 11am, Donnelly told BuzzFeed News.
In his decision published last Friday, senior tribunal member Milton Griffin QC demanded an explanation.
The government’s lawyer and the Villawood officer said the same thing: Mukiza had been woken at about 7am and was not ready to come until later because he had slept in.
Mukiza denied this.
Griffin was unimpressed. Villawood's explanation was laughable, he said.
"Those who are the custodians of people in detention have a range of absolute responsibilities, not least of which is to ensure that their charges are presented to this Tribunal on time," Griffin said.
"Villawood Detention Centre has absolute responsibility and control for their charges in all aspects of their lives. That goes without saying.
"To suggest that those responsible for this Applicant were incapable of ensuring his attendance on time is in fact not only risible, but the Tribunal considers, an explanation offered impudently."
Griffin added that he had been informed that in the weeks leading up to the hearing a number of other detainees were also “produced late” for their hearings.
“This state of affairs is thoroughly unacceptable and the minister responsible should be informed of the situation,” he said.
Donnelly said he had recently had a client at Villawood who had never been brought to his tribunal hearing. Instead, he appeared by audiovisual link.
"I'd explained to him that he would be there," Donnelly said. "He was quite flustered by what had happened."
A spokesperson for the Australian Border Force told BuzzFeed News that it "ensures, as far as is possible, that any court/tribunal indicated timeframe is adhered to."
"Detainees scheduled to attend the AAT are not obligated to attend the hearings. There is an obligation upon detainees to prepare for any attendance if they choose to attend," the spokesperson said.
Mukiza’s appeal was successful.