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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Government wins asylum appeal
Oakington immigration centre
Asylum seekers are held for seven days at Oakington
A High Court ruling that jeopardised the future of the government's fast-track immigration centre at Oakington in Cambridgeshire has been overturned.

The Court of Appeal decision on Friday comes after a High Court judge last month said four asylum seekers were unlawfully detained there while their applications were considered.

The judges' decision ... represents a serious infringements on people's human rights

Nick Hardwick
Refugee Council
That judgement had threatened the government's fast-track immigration policy and could have resulted in the release of hundreds of asylum seekers and claims for compensation.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said he was "extremely pleased" with Friday's ruling, which meant common sense had "prevailed".

"This rational and understandable judgement reinforces confidence in our judiciary and legal system," said Mr Blunkett.

"Oakington is an important element in the effective operation of tough but fair immigration controls."

The 4.5m centre is designed to cut the backlog of more than 100,000 undecided asylum applications.

The four Iraqi Kurds, who brought the case claiming the government had infringed their human rights by detaining them, have been given leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

But if the judgement is upheld, it could lead to more immigration centres being built.

Detention restrictions

The judges sitting in the Court of Appeal - Lord Phillips, Lord Justice Schiemann and Lord Justice Waller - suggested Mr Blunkett had already exceeded European human rights requirements by deciding not to detain asylum seekers much beyond a week.

David Blunkett, Home Secretary
Blunkett was angered by the original ruling

Lord Phillips said restrictions on detaining foreigners came from the UK's historical recognition of the importance of liberty, rather than from the European Convention.

But the loss of freedom in the Iraqis' case fell "at the bottom end" of interference with that right, he said.

Lord Phillips said: "It is right, nonetheless, that its legitimacy should have received strict scrutiny. Our conclusion is that it is lawful."

Last month Mr Blunkett said he was "deeply disturbed" at the landmark ruling that the men had had their human rights breached.

The four Iraqi Kurds involved are Dr Shayan Saadi, who arrived at Heathrow airport in December 2000 and immediately claimed asylum; Zhenar Maged, Dilshad Osman and Rizgan Mohammed, who all arrived at Dover in the same month in the backs of lorries.

Three of the men have since been granted refugee status on appeal. Two benefited from a technicality.

The four men's lawyers described the decision as "very disappointing" and said it greatly extended the Home Office's powers of detention.

Attacks 'influenced' judgement

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, claimed the decision represented a "serious infringement on people's rights to liberty".

"Though the government has won a legal victory over Oakington, the real issue at stake is the unacceptable and growing use of detention under this government," he said.

And asylum seeker support group Oakington Concern claimed the latest ruling had been influenced by the US terror attacks.

"Anyone looking at this in the wake of what happened in New York would, I suggest, have had those events in their minds and I can't help but think this judgement has been warped by those feelings."

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
Hughes wants open immigration reception centres
Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin signalled that the ruling would not end Conservative criticism of Labour's asylum policy.

The judgement, he said, "does not remove the need for a significant revision of the management of the asylum system".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the court had shown it wanted to limit detentions to the shortest possible time and the "fewest circumstances".

He urged ministers to replace detention centres with a system of open reception centres.

The BBC's Andy Tight at the UK's Court of Appeal
"It agrees that limited detention is an acceptable measure of last resort"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Scotland
Asylum 'prison' campaign hots up
04 Sep 01 | UK
Aiming for England
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Asylum decision shocks politicians
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