Australia's High Court ruled today that asylum-seekers cannot be sent to Malaysia - throwing the government's controversial immigration policy into disarray.
Judges reached a 6-1 majority decision to make an injunction barring Australia from transferring 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in a refugee-exchange deal permanent.
The ruling cannot be appealed against. The court also determined that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had no legal power to remove from Australia asylum-seekers whose refugee claims had not been considered.
The case was brought by 16 asylum-seekers who were to become the first to be flown to Malaysia.
Their lawyer David Manne said he was "delighted" for his clients who had been "absolutely petrified" of being sent to the south-east Asian country.
The government had argued that Australia could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country to process refugee claims, but the court pointed out that Malaysia had not signed the UN Convention on Refugees and had no obligations under international or domestic law to protect asylum-seekers.
Mr Bowen said: "Today's decision by the High Court is a profoundly disappointing one."
But Amnesty International praised the ruling as "a landmark victory for human rights" and said it had been "horrified" by government attempts to make an example of "desperate people including unaccompanied minors."
Spokesman Graham Thom said the decision vindicated the rights group's view that the deportations were "inhumane and inappropriate."
n Two fires broke out today at an immigration centre in Darwin, northern Australia.
Both blazes were extinguished and no-one was reported hurt. An immigration official said that the fires had been started by suspected people-smugglers being held at the camp.