The Government today suffered a legal defeat which could result in the release of hundreds of asylum seekers from an immigration centre.
Mr Justice Collins, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that four Iraqi Kurds had been unlawfully held at the £4.5 million Oakington centre in Cambridgeshire in breach of their human rights.
The four claimed that their detention – even for a few days while it was ascertained whether they were genuine refugees – was unlawful. Three of the men have since been granted refugee status.
The Government, which faces the prospect of huge compensation claims, is to appeal.
Mr Justice Collins said: "I am satisfied that the detention of all the claimants was not lawful."
People sent to Oakington, a former RAF barracks which opened in March last year, are supposed to be held for seven days and are given speedy initial decisions on their asylum applications.
Lawyers for Home Secretary David Blunkett unsuccessfully argued that Oakingtonwas a reception centre rather than a detention facility and that the holding ofasylum seekers there was lawful.
The Kurds argued that there was no reason to believe that they would abscond and that the Government had no right to deprive them of their liberty.