Asylum seeker detainees can keep mobile phones, federal court rules | Australia news

Asylum seekers will be able to keep their mobile phones while in detention, the federal court has ruled, after the Australian Border Force introduced a ban on the devices.

The federal court found that immigration could not mandatorily confiscate property, including mobile phones, from people in immigration detention.

George Newhouse, the principal solicitor at the National Justice Project, who successfully brought the case on behalf of about 80 asylum seekers, said the court had successfully stopped “the overreach of minister Peter Dutton and protected the rights of vulnerable people trapped indefinitely in his brutal system”.

Tim O’Connor from Amnesty International said the decision would enshrine the rights of people in the immigration detention system to mobile phones.

“This is a lifeline for people to maintain crucial access to their family, friends and their lawyers,” O’Connor said.

In February last year, lawyers representing asylum seekers detained in Melbourne, Sydney and regional Western Australia launched a federal court challenge and obtained a temporary injunction to a new policy introduced by the Australian Border Force to seize all detainees’ phones.

In August the full bench of the federal court rejected a jurisdictional challenge over the February injunction. Following the failed court appeal Dutton introduced legislation banning phones and other items he considers to pose a “risk”.

O’Connor said that legislation should now be rejected by the parliament.

“We call on fair and ethically minded members of our parliament to protect the rights of vulnerable people, including those seeking asylum, by refusing to pass newly proposed legislation which would affect this important legal precedent.”

Natasha Blucher, detention advocacy manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said at the time: “It appears the government is legislating to get around a court decision they’ve found unfavourable.”

One asylum seeker who had recently spent time in detention told Guardian Australia phones were vital for detainees.

“For people who are in detention, it seems like they’re living in a separate world, it’s like a prison with no access to anyone or anything. It keeps them in the dark,” she said.

“By having a phone they’re able to get the latest on what’s happening, they can stay in touch with their family and keep connected to communities. At the very least they can feel like they’re alive, and be in touch with people outside the detention centres.”