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Doctors in High Court border gag challenge

AAP logoAAP 26/07/2016 By Lisa Martin

Australian doctors will challenge in the High Court secrecy clauses in the federal government's border force laws that prevent them speaking out on the welfare of asylum seekers in detention and refugees.

The Fitzroy Legal Service is filing the case on Wednesday on behalf of Doctors for Refugees which has 400 members Australia wide.

Spokeswoman Barri Phatarfod says existing laws potentially criminalise the actions of clinicians who are simply seeking to advance the interests of patients.

"In Australia it is against the law to fail to report children at risk of physical or psychological harm," Dr Phatarfod told AAP.

"In our offshore detention camps, doctors risk criminal charges for doing the same."

Doctors were not fulfilling their professional responsibilities if they stood by as people walked through raw sewerage to get to meal areas or witnessed women and children being forced to shower in view of male guards.

"There should not be one rule for people who seek safety in Australia and another for those who live here," Dr Phatarfod said.

Lawyer Meghan Fitzgerald said the case would question whether secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act breach a constitutional freedom to engage in political communication.

"People need to be able to have their doctors represent their interest if they are going to survive conditions in offshore detention," Ms Fitzgerald said.

The Act came into force in July 2015 and contains a provision that "an entrusted person" must not disclose protected information, while a breach of the provision can result in two years' jail.

The federal government says the measure is about preventing sensitive operational information being leaked.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has previously insisted the provision does not restrict peoples' ability to raise genuine concerns about conditions in detention through appropriate channels.

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