Plane hijackers to retain their rights
THE Home Secretary on Monday asked the Court of Appeal to rule that he has the legal power to take away the right of nine Afghan hijackers to work and enjoy other freedoms in the UK. A QC for John Reid argued that, although the nine could not be deported
THE Home Secretary on Monday asked the Court of Appeal to rule that he has the legal power to take away the right of nine Afghan hijackers to work and enjoy other freedoms in the UK.
A QC for John Reid argued that, although the nine could not be deported because of their human rights, immigration law allowed him to impose 'temporary admission' status on them and curb their freedom while in this country.
The nine Afghans hijacked a Boeing 727 on an internal flight in Afghanistan in February 2000. They were fleeing the Taliban regime and forced the crew to fly to Stansted.
Although they were refused asylum, a panel of adjudicators ruled in 2004 that, under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they could not be sent back to Afghanistan because their lives would be endangered.
Following a public outcry over the nine being granted a 'hijackers' charter' government ministers attempted to restrict their rights.
They were eventually granted only temporary admission in November 2005 by the then home secretary Charles Clarke.
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But the Home Office suffered an embarrassing High Court defeat in May this year when Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that it was unlawful under the 1971 Immigration Act to keep the nine on temporary leave.
The judge declared they were entitled to 'discretionary leave' to enter and remain in the UK, subject to review every six months.
This allowed the nine to work, possibly claim state benefits and support their families in the UK, even though they were not entitled to full refugee status.
In contrast, those subjected to temporary admission normally have to rely on state hand-outs, cannot work or obtain travel documents, but have to live where they are told, report to police and remain subject to detention at any time.
Today Robert Jay QC, appearing for Mr Reid, said their cases next came up for review in November. He argued the home secretary was entitled in law to have a policy of granting only temporary admission to failed asylum seekers who had been allowed to remain in the country on human rights grounds.
The QC told the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clare, sitting with Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Neuberger, that the issue was of general importance with regard to asylum seekers.
He said: "I have to establish that the temporary admissions policy is lawful, otherwise all the other grounds disintegrate."
Mr Jay said the home secretary was not challenging Mr Justice Sullivan's finding that the past handling of the hijackers' case by the Home Office ministers amounted to an 'abuse of power by a public authority at the highest level'.
In May, the judge ordered the government to pay legal costs on an indemnity basis - the highest possible level - to 'mark the court's strongest disapproval".
In December 2001 all nine were convicted of hijacking, false imprisonment, possessing firearms with intent to cause fear of violence and possessing explosives. In June 2003 their convictions were quashed by the Appeal Court, which fund they had been acting under duress.
David Blunkett was home secretary when the nine won their right to remain in the country, and his spokesman described the decision as 'mind boggling', while shadow home secretary David Davis said it was 'crazy'.
The judge reserved judgement after a day-long hearing.
The nine hijackers said they are educated people who do not want to 'sponge' off the state.
After the High Court ruling in their favour, they said they were desperate to be allowed to work and contribute to UK society.
They also apologised to passengers on the hijacked flight to Stansted for the fear they had caused.
Prime minister Tony Blair called the High Court ruling an 'abuse of common sense'.