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29 September 2015

Inside the Nauru Refugee Status Review Tribunal

Published on 29 September 2015
Working as a part of any tribunal can yield its challenges. When entrusted with the responsibility to determine the fate of an individual or an organisation, the stakes are high.

For Rea Mackinnon, these challenges have taken on a unique shape. An established administrative lawyer, Mackinnon has acted in judicial and merits review applications for both applicants and government respondents, including reviews of migration and refugee decisions. In addition, she has provided advice to individual, government and corporate clients.

Prior to her current posting at the Nauru Refugee Status Review Tribunal, Mackinnon held a number of statutory and tribunal appointments in Australia.

It is a role that stands quite apart from many legal pursuits. Mackinnon has spoken to Insights to offer a personal view into her professional life.

A typical day at the Tribunal adheres to an established regime.

“The Tribunal is an independent statutory tribunal established under the Refugees Convention Act 2012. The Tribunal reviews negative refugee status determinations made by the Secretary of the Department of Justice under the same Act. The Tribunal sits on Nauru every two months or so for two weeks, and hears two cases a day,” Mackinnon told Insights.

“Each hearing usually takes a few hours. The review applicants are legally represented at the hearings and are assisted by interpreters. The Tribunal sits as a three-member panel. After the hearings, the members discuss each case in detail to formulate the Tribunals findings and reasons. Review applicants and the Secretary are entitled to appeal a Tribunal decision to the Supreme Court of Nauru.

“The refugee status of asylum seekers on Nauru is assessed and determined under the Refugees Convention Act 2012 in accordance with the UNHCR Guidelines for assessing refugee status.”

The Refugees Convention Act 2012 provides that a person may apply to the Secretary to be recognised as a refugee and empowers the Tribunal to review the Secretary’s determinations. The Tribunal is required to act according to the principles of natural justice.  The Tribunal’s processes are similar to Australian administrative review tribunals and, as in Australia asylum seekers on Nauru can access independent merits review and judicial review. Mackinnon’s Australian administrative law expertise, therefore, is relevant in the establishment of the Tribunal.

“It is challenging and stimulating to be involved in developing a new refugee jurisdiction and delivering a review process that meets international standards in a complex environment,” Mackinnon said.

“There are particular challenges on Nauru relating to the remoteness and the uncertainty felt by asylum seekers regarding their long-term futures. The challenge is to do the best you can.”