Melbourne: Australia today said 153 Tamil asylum seekers on board a boat intercepted by customs will not be sent to Sri Lanka without 72 hours` written notice to the court as criticism mounted over the government`s hardline policy on the issue.
An Australian High Court heard the case of returning these asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities.
The group which include children were intercepted and are being held on an Australian Customs vessel, ABC report said.
Their boat never entered Australian territorial waters and those on board will not be processed under the Migration Act, the government said.
Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson told the High Court that an Australian vessel intercepted the boat 12 miles from Australian territorial waters.
He said the asylum seekers are being held on an Australian vessel `on the high seas`.
The Court was informed that there were among the asylum seekers there were minors, aged between 2 and 16 years of age.
Gleeson said the boat was found in Australia`s contiguous zone - not the migration zone - and argued that the passengers had no right to claim asylum in Australia.
"People who reach the contiguous zone have no rights under the act," he told the court.
Gleeson said the 72 hours` notice would be given to the asylum seekers` lawyers if a decision was made to hand them over.
He said the commitment to provide notice was "given without any admissions on any matter of fact or law".
Ron Merkel, who is acting for the asylum seekers, told the court the boat was intercepted in Australian waters and that there was evidence it was in "trouble" at the time.
Merkel said the issue was not whether the Government had power to take the 153 people on board an Australian vessel, but whether they could be forcibly returned to Sri Lanka.
ABC report also quoted Sri Lankan high commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, as saying that his country has no plans to accept the group, who are believed to have set sail from a port in India.
"I can categorically deny and reject any plans of Sri Lanka to take over the suspected, speculated, presumed asylum seekers coming from India," he was quoted by the report.
Justice Susan Crennan gave lawyers of the asylum seekers seven days to file a statement of claim, after which the government has seven days to respond.
The case is expected to be back before the High Court within 21 days and the parties have been given time to file documents.
Government solicitors have until to return subpoenas requested by the refugee advocates.