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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Government appeal over hijackers
Hijacked plane
The stand-off at Stansted Airport lasted for four days in 2000

The government has said it will appeal against a decision to allow nine Afghan hijackers to stay in Britain because it was unsafe for them to return home.

Home Secretary John Reid said it was important to challenge any ruling which may "appear inexplicable or bizarre to the general public".

A High Court judge ruled the nine, involved in a four-day stand-off at Stansted Airport in 2000, could remain.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had said the ruling was an "abuse of common sense".

In a statement in Downing Street, Mr Reid said: "When decisions are taken which appear inexplicable or bizarre to the general public, it only reinforces the perception that the system is not working to protect or in favour of the vast majority of ordinary decent, hard-working citizens in this country.

"That is a perception that should worry all of us and it is a perception that all of us should be working to put right."

'Abuse of justice'

The hijacking led to asylum applications from 78 people on board.

"We can't have a situation in which people who hijack a plane, we're not able to deport back to their country," Mr Blair said on Wednesday.

"It's not an abuse of justice for us to order their deportation, it's an abuse of common sense frankly to be in a position where we can't do this.

It is difficult to conceive of a clearer case of 'conspicuous unfairness amounting to an abuse of power'
Mr Justice Sullivan

To deter hijacking and international terrorism, individuals should not be "rewarded with leave to remain in the UK", the Home Office said.

A spokesman said it had introduced a policy that enabled the secretary of state not to grant leave to people who are "excluded from international protection" and keep them on temporary admission visas.

Serious clash

The question of what should happen to the nine and their families had caused a serious clash between the government and the judiciary over human rights law.

High Court judge Mr Justice Sullivan expressed his anger over the way ministers failed to follow correct legal procedures and "deliberately delayed" implementing an adjudication appeal panel's decision from two years ago.

Their ruling in June 2004 meant that, under human rights law, the nine could not be sent back to Afghanistan where their lives would be at risk.

The judge also made an unprecedented order that the Home Office should pay legal costs on an indemnity basis - the highest level possible - to show his "disquiet and concern".

Convictions quashed

The nine men were jailed at the Old Bailey in 2001 for hijacking the Ariana Boeing 727 on an internal flight in Afghanistan.

Appeal judges quashed the convictions in May 2003 but insisted that their decision was "not a charter for future hijackers". They said a mistake in directing the jury was the only reason the men's appeal had succeeded.

Successive home secretaries had failed to grant the Afghans discretionary leave to enter the UK.

The nine were only permitted temporary admission, due to fears that to allow them to live and work freely in Britain would amount to "a charter for future hijackers".

However, Mr Justice Sullivan said: "It is difficult to conceive of a clearer case of 'conspicuous unfairness amounting to an abuse of power'."

He went on: "Lest there be any misunderstanding, the issue in this case is not whether the executive should take action to discourage hijacking, but whether the executive should be required to take such action within the law as laid down by Parliament and the courts."

He ordered the home secretary to grant the nine "discretionary leave" to remain in the UK, subject to review every six months.

Lawyers for the family said the decision means, subject to any appeal, that the nine and their families will now be able to take up employment and "get on with their lives".

Hijack convictions 'a mistake'
06 Jun 03 |  UK Politics
Analysis: Afghan hijack aftermath
10 Feb 00 |  South Asia

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