A Home Office policy which allows the speedy deportation of foreign nationals refused permission to remain in the UK was declared unlawful and quashed by the High Court today.
A judge ruled that the policy meant people were being given "little or no notice" of removal and deprived of access to justice.
The decision was a victory for Medical Justice, which provides independent medical and legal advice to detainees in immigration removal centres.
Mr Justice Silber, sitting at the High Court in London, gave the Home Office permission to appeal against his decision, saying the case raised issues of general public importance, including the constitutional right of access to justice.
There is a general Home Office practice of giving those facing deportation 72 hours notice of removal directions.
Today's legal challenge was triggered by an "exceptions policy", introduced by the Government in March 2007 and widened in January this year.
The policy creates categories in which an individual can be given little or no notice.
The categories include vulnerable people who are at risk of suicide or self-harm, and also children who arrived in the UK unaccompanied and may abscond because they cannot be detained.
Dinah Rose QC, appearing for Medical Justice, said UK Border Agency officers had used the policy to swoop late at night and escort people to flights leaving only a few hours later.
Distressed individuals were deprived of the chance to speak to a lawyer and, if so advised, launch last-ditch challenges against removal.
Home Office lawyers argued at a hearing at London's High Court last month that the exceptions policy was "sufficiently flexible" to ensure there were no human rights breaches.
They said detainees were given as much notice as possible and safeguards had been put in place.
But today Mr Justice Silber rejected the Home Office case.
He said the new policy failed to ensure that those who received reduced periods of notice were able to obtain legal advice before they were removed.
The judge declared: "The policy is unlawful and must be quashed."
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