Asylum seekers legally detained at sea, High Court rules

A DECISION by the High Court to dismiss 156 Sri Lankan asylum seekers' claims of wrongful imprisonment has "vindicated" the government's actions, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.

The Court on Wednesday ruled the Abbott government was legally allowed to detain 156 asylum seekers on a boat for a month while it tried to send them back to India.

But the majority ruling was spilt between the seven justices, with four supporting the government's argument and three judges backing the asylum seekers.

The landmark ruling has legitimised the government's actions in detaining the 156 largely Tamil asylum seekers at sea, before leaving them at the Nauru offshore detention centre.

In the case, asylum seekers and their lawyers argued the detention on the naval vessel was unlawful and claimed damages for "wrongful imprisonment".

But the court's ruling dismissed the case on the grounds the government did have the power to detain them, despite the "maritime officer" detaining them "without independent consideration".

Mr Dutton said while he was yet to seek full legal advice on the decision, it vindicated the government's actions in the case.

Despite continued concerns about breaches of Australia's international human rights obligations, Mr Dutton said the government took such issues "seriously".

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