It was a big day for the High Court yesterday, with a ruling that two Sri Lankan asylum seekers were denied “procedural fairness” by the Migration Act during a review of their refugee application.

But there is some confusion over what exactly this means. Does it completely affect the future of offshore processing of asylum seekers, including the planned East Timor processing centre? Or is it just a technicality, a change that makes it fairer but that — according to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen — “has the potential to elongate the time it takes to process refugee claims.”

The biggest win is that asylum seekers arriving by boat will be treated with the same rights as those arriving by plane, including a full right of appeal. Usually asylum seekers arriving by boat only have direct personal intervention by the Immigration Minister as their only source of appeal.

Here’s what the commentariat are saying:

The Australian

Lauren Wilson: Ruling a blow to asylum strategy

Australia’s capacity to detain asylum-seekers on Christmas Island and refuse them access to appeal determinations is in doubt.

Mark Schliebs: Iraqi wonders how friends will cope

Muntather Alshimari struggled to keep his sanity during the 10 months he spent in immigration detention centres. And following yesterday’s High Court ruling he fears asylum-seekers will endure even longer waits.

Chris Merritt: Despite hue and cry, it’s not a massive win

The real impact of the High Court’s decision in the asylum-seeker case will be felt by bureaucrats and lawyers, not refugees. This decision will not free anyone from detention. It has struck down no law.

The Age

Michael Gordon: History takes high ground

This was always morally repugnant. The High Court has now deemed it legally repugnant.

David Marr: As one, judges show they safeguard liberty

Unanimous decisions of the High Court are never an accident. Only every decade or so do all seven judges speak with a single voice on big issues of principle. It’s their way of sending a blunt message to government.

Julian Burnside: A victory for basic rights

Members of the public who, for their own reasons, are unhappy about so-called ”boat people” should not be disturbed by yesterday’s judgment. On the contrary, they should understand that the court has upheld and reaffirmed one of the most basic protections our legal system provides to reduce the risk of oppression and injustice at the hands of the executive government. They should reflect for a moment on the fact that the same principles protect their rights.

The Daily Telegraph

Simon Benson: Offshore refugee system in chaos

The entire refugee processing system is now in chaos after the court ruled the Government could no longer hold people on Christmas Island outside the protection of normal Australian law.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey