Government ‘betraying Britain’s most fundamental constitutional values’ over Jamaican deportation flight, High Court told

‘Disappointment when results go against you does not justify an attack on the constitution,’ says lawyer representing anti-deportation activitsts

Government defends mass deportation flight to Jamaica amid backlash from MPs

Downing Street has been accused of “betraying Britain’s most fundamental constitutional values” over a deportation flight to Jamaica.

The High Court heard Boris Johnson was reportedly “furious” over a Court of Appeal order that temporarily blocked the removal of half the offenders on board last week.

The charter flight was due to depart for Jamaica with around 50 passengers, but campaigners launched a legal challenge amid concern that mobile phone outages prevented some deportees from accessing legal advice.

The Court of Appeal ordered the Home Office not to remove anyone who did not have access to a functioning non-O2 sim card before 4 February, causing 25 people to be taken off the flight.

Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, allegedly described the court’s intervention as the “perfect symbol of the British state’s dysfunction”.

A barrister representing Detention Action, a charity which supports immigration detainees, said the government attacked the order as “allowing convicted criminals to escape deportation”.

Chris Buttler, representing the charity, said those criticisms were “misplaced”, adding: “First, this case is not, and never has been, about the merits of deporting the individuals concerned.

“It is about the ancient constitutional right of access to justice.

“Second, it has been the duty of the English courts to uphold the right of access to justice since at least the Magna Carta of 1215. That is their function.

“To contend that this is ‘dysfunctional’ is a betrayal of our most fundamental constitutional values.”

Mr Buttler said Detention Action’s challenge centred on the right of access to lawyers, and was an example of the judicial review process “working as it should”.

“It is understandable that the government was disappointed,” he told the High Court on Tuesday.

“But any government worth its salt appreciates that judicial review is a cornerstone of our constitution, and disappointment when results go against you does not justify an attack on the constitution or threats to dismantle it.”

As well as the mobile phone signal problems affecting Colnbrook and Harmondsworth detention centres since January, there were concerns that some of the planned deportees came to the UK as young children and have family ties to this country.

Home Office policy states that detainees being removed by charter flight must be given a minimum of five working days to enable them to seek legal advice.

Mr Buttler said evidence had emerged in correspondence with the Home Office that a number of detainees were not given new sim cards in adequate time.

Man who has been in UK since age 11 and has British baby set to be deported on Jamaica charter flight

Detention Action also said landlines at the detention centres were not a good enough alternative due to long queues, limited availability and a lack of privacy.

The court heard the charity wrote to the Home Office to ask for evidence it had complied with the Court of Appeal’s order and for more information about the steps taken to address the mobile phone issues.

The Home Office now has until 28 February to respond to Detention Action’s case and, if the charity is satisfied with the answers, the legal challenge will be resolved without need for any further court hearings.

David Manknell, representing the Home Office, told the court the matters raised were disputed and the case was now “academic” as the flight has departed.

The government previously described the 50 people intended to be deported as “serious or persistent foreign criminals” who had been convicted of crimes including rape, violence and drug offences.

A further eight people, who are having their cases reviewed by the Home Office after bringing individual legal actions, were also not deported and the plane eventually left for Jamaica last Tuesday with 17 people on board.

Speaking outside court after the hearing, Detention Action’s director Bella Sankey said she hoped the Court of Appeal’s order “does give the Home Office some pause for thought in terms of how it goes about detaining and removing people”.

She added: “Access to justice is fundamental, it is an ancient English right – it is not a new, faddy human rights innovation, it is one of the oldest rights in our constitution.”

Additional reporting by PA

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