Australian top court's decision has global impact, say lawyers A ruling by Australia's highest court that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation could amount to grounds for asylum will have worldwide implications, refugee groups said yesterday. The ruling by the High Court, which was split 4-3, was hailed by refugee advocates as a 'landmark decision'. The court ordered the Immigration Department to reconsider the asylum claims of two gay Bangladeshi men who said they fled their homeland because they feared being persecuted for their sexuality. It is believed to be the first time in the world a final court of appeal has made such a ruling, with refugee advocates arguing that it could serve as a precedent for gays seeking asylum in other countries. 'I think it will have a significant impact, not only in Australia but internationally,' said Bruce Levet, the lawyer acting for the two men. 'Our jurisprudence is something that's looked to by courts of other refugee-receiving states.' The men, who lived together in Bangladesh, came to Australia four years ago and applied for protection as refugees from gay persecution. Refugee status is normally granted on grounds of political persecution. When Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal rejected their application, the men appealed to the Federal Court, which in February last year upheld the tribunal's ruling. The tribunal had argued that the men had acted 'discreetly' in the past and such discretion would prevent them from being persecuted in future. But on Tuesday the High Court said the tribunal must review the men's case and consider whether they would suffer harm from police, their employers or others if their homosexuality was made public. It is not clear when the tribunal's new decision will be made. Mr Levet said that after being exposed as a gay couple in Bangladesh, his clients had been ostracised by their families and community and were physically abused. A local Islamic council had issued a fatwah against them, sentencing the men to death by stoning. Jenni Millbank, a law lecturer from Sydney University who helped bring the case, said there were dozens of similar asylum applications awaiting consideration by Australian authorities involving homosexuals from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Colombia. But she said the ruling was unlikely to lead to a flood of similar claims as applicants would still have to undergo vigorous tests to show they faced persecution. Ms Millbank said many asylum-seekers were dissuaded from applying for refugee status in Australia because of its strict immigration laws.