Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
Landmark ruling boosts political refugees
Refugee Chouki Adimi: "Very happy" with ruling
The High Court has ruled that refugees who used false documents while travelling to claim political asylum in the UK were being wrongly prosecuted and jailed.
The ruling, which contradicts previous judgments made by the Home Office and the lower courts, was made in three test cases. It could potentially affect hundreds of others.
The Home Office said it was considering the ruling.
Lord Justice Simon Brown said: "It must be hoped that these challenges will mark a turning point in the Crown's approach to the prosecution of refugees for travelling on false passports."
The landmark ruling follows complaints from immigration lawyers that hundreds of asylum seekers were imprisoned in the UK every year for using forged documents.
Many have received prison sentences of betwee six and nine months, higher than some people convicted of actual bodily harm, indecent assault or burglary.
Lord Justice Brown rejected Home Office claims that Article 31 obliged a refugee to claim asylum "where first he may". He ruled that any "short term stopover en route to an intended sanctuary cannot forfeit the protection of the Article".
The three test cases involved:
In each case, the asylum-seekers were prosecuted and jailed for up to six months for travelling with false documents. They all submitted claims for asylum, and were awaiting the results.
Anne Owers, director of campaign group Justice, said the ruling was "very significant in reinforcing the obligations of Britain to refugees under Article 31".
Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, welcomed the ruling, and said: "It is a tremendous victory for asylum-seekers in the UK.
"We urge the government to now focus on the true task at hand, which is to create a fair and efficient asylum system."