Leading article: Fast-tracked injustice

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The Independent Online

The Home Office was yesterday given the right to appeal against a High Court ruling that it has been breaking the law by "fast-tracking" the removal of asylum-seekers before they can contact their lawyers to challenge the decision to deport them. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, should ensure that her officials do not appeal against the ruling.

A judge confirmed the common sense view yesterday that it offends against natural justice to detain asylum-seekers in the night and then bundle them on to a plane without even giving them the chance to telephone their solicitor – as happened recently to an Eritrean teenager, taken from her home at 4am and flown immediately to Italy, who was able to contact her British solicitor only after she landed in Rome. Such precipitate action raises serious questions about the constitutional right of access to justice.

Originally, individuals facing deportation were given 72 hours' notice of their impending removal. But the authorities have been making increasing use of a change in the law made in 2007 to allow exceptions to the general rule. In the first year only 24 such "exceptions" were made, but last year the figure multiplied sixfold. The practice of immigration officers swooping late at night, and escorting distressed people on to planes which leave only a few hours later, is growing.

The Government's argument is that individuals with no right to be in the UK should be removed as quickly as possible. But the targets of the "exceptions policy" have not just been individuals who need to be removed swiftly "to maintain order and discipline" at a detention centre. It has also been particularly used on vulnerable individuals including those at risk of suicide or self-harm and also children who have arrived in Britain unaccompanied and who are deemed most likely to abscond if they are not removed immediately. There is a callous disregard for the fact that asylum-seekers in these vulnerable categories are the very individuals most likely to face problems in the place to which they are deported.

Policies like this, along with the practice of detaining children in immigration centres, are perhaps the most dishonourable legacy of the departed Labour government. Nick Clegg recently announced an end to the shameful business of detaining children. Ms May should now announce that the coalition Government will not be challenging this ruling against the clear injustice of fast-track deportation.