Samim Bigzad: Amber Rudd could be jailed for contempt of court after Home Office defies judges, barrister says

Government defied three orders by High Court judges to deport man threatened with beheading by Taliban

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 20 September 2017 13:52 BST
Amber Rudd criticised by asylum seeker who was sent back to Afghanistan

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Critics are calling for Amber Rudd to resign after the Home Office appeared to violate court rulings ordering a deported asylum seeker to be returned to the UK.

One immigration barrister claimed the Home Secretary could be jailed over the case, which culminated in a lengthy battle in the Court of Appeal.

Barrister Rachel Francis said the wrangling over Samim Bigzad’s fate had put him at the centre “of a growing constitutional crisis that could land Amber Rudd in court for contempt and ultimately, in prison”.

Although jail sentences for contempt are exceptionally rare, Ms Francis said “every mile” of the Afghan man’s forced journey back to Kabul was unlawful.

“The stress and fear that Samim experienced during his unlawful journey is likely to have been severe,” Ms Francis wrote in a piece for The Independent.

“But there is a further cost: to the rule of law and to public confidence in the administration of justice.”

She accused the Home Office of defying its own policy on deporting asylum seekers, saying Ms Rudd had shown a “worrying disdain for the principle that Government ministers are subject to the same laws as the rest of society”.

Samim Bigzad was returned to Heathrow from Kabul on 17 September (Duncan Lewis )
Samim Bigzad was returned to Heathrow from Kabul on 17 September (Duncan Lewis ) (Duncan Lewis)

The former Lord Chancellor compared the Home Secretary’s actions to those of a “16th Century monarch” with a divine right to rule by defying court orders.

“Who did Amber Rudd think she was?” Lord Falconer wrote in The Guardian.

“No special rules about court orders apply to her. She cannot ignore them and shop around the judges until she gets what she wants.”

The Labour peer said Ms Rudd had “displayed a disdainful arrogance for the courts and the law,” adding: “Unless she has an explanation, she has to go as Home Secretary.”

Ms Rudd did not directly respond to contempt of court allegations during an unapologetic appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying: “I will look carefully at the information and make sure we abide by the law, like we always do.”

Amber Rudd avoids contempt of court allegations

Shami Chakrabarti, Labour's Shadow Attorney General, said: “The return of Samim Bigzad from Kabul after his unlawful deportation is welcome news but the Home Office must explain how he was removed in the first instance.

“There is no security let alone democracy without the rule of law. If Government ministers flout court orders, what will other citizens do?”

Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat MP, said Mr Bigzad should receive a formal apology.

“The fact that the Home Secretary has disregarded the ruling of our courts is an outrage,” he added.

“Whether this is a case of standard Home Office incompetence or something far more sinister is a question that needs answering without delay, and Mr Bigzad should receive a formal apology from the Secretary of State for the appalling treatment he has suffered.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, echoed the call for a public apology, accusing the Government of “fanaticism and obsession with making Britain a hostile environment for refugees and migrants.”

He added: “But despite what the Home Secretary seems to think not even the Home Office is above the law.”

Mr Bigzad’s case is the subject of a judicial review and his representatives said separate contempt of court proceedings could start at the High Court.

The Home Office defied three orders from senior judges to deport the 22-year-old and keep him in Afghanistan – the country he fled in 2015 after being threatened with beheading by the Taliban.

He was left awaiting his fate for five days at a hotel in Kabul, where armed men were seen outside, in fear of his life.

Mr Bigzad was finally returned to the UK after the Government lost a four-hour hearing at the Court of Appeal, with friends describing how he dropped his bag and ran into their arms in an emotional arrival at Heathrow on Sunday night.

“He was so happy he could barely speak,” said solicitor Jamie Bell. “He was just looking around like he couldn’t believe it was real.

“He’s a very brave man. He’s been through a lot and now he’s back and he’s just in shock.”

The Home Office initially attempted to deport him in August but was thwarted when a Turkish Airlines pilot refused to take off from Heathrow with him on board after campaigners alerted passengers and crew to his plight.

Mr Bigzad was taken back to the notorious Brook House immigration detention centre until 12 September, when relatives were told he was to be deported with less than four hours’ notice.

His legal representatives secured an emergency injunction as he was held awaiting a connecting flight in Istanbul that night, which required the Home Office to return the asylum seeker to the UK pending a judicial review of his case.

But he was flown onwards to Kabul after the Home Office claimed it was “too late” to remove Mr Bigzad from the plane.

In a second order issued by the High Court, Justice Jay said the Government appeared to have committed “prima facie contempts of court” and must “take all steps available to procure [Mr Bigzad’s] immediate return to the United Kingdom”.

He warned that intending to challenge an order was not a reason for ignoring it, but Mr Bigzad was not returned and a third order was issued from another High Court judge, who threw out Home Office attempts to overturn previous rulings.

The case then reached the Court of Appeal on Saturday, where judges again rejected the Government’s arguments and ordered it to return the asylum seeker immediately.

Mr Bell, a solicitor with Duncan Lewis Public Law, said the Home Office had acted “unlawfully” and that a contempt of court action would be brought.

Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, may face a new attempt to deport him to Kabul
Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, may face a new attempt to deport him to Kabul

He told The Independent Mr Bigzad’s case would also be the subject of a judicial review that will look at the lawfulness of the Government’s actions, as lawyers gather evidence for a new asylum claim.

“It was a long and hard-fought victory to return Samim and hopefully there will be more victories to come,” Mr Bell said.

Mr Bigzad has now returned to Kent, where he had been living with a British host while learning English and caring for his father.

The elder Mr Bigzad, a British citizen, suffers from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome after being captured and tortured by the Taliban in the 1990s.

Relatives say the militant group later targeted his son because of his work in a construction firm that had contracts with the Afghan government and American military.

The Independent has seen evidence including contracts, tax returns and rental agreements that support Mr Bigzad’s claims, and the Taliban has launched frequent attacks on “puppets” accused of colluding with its enemies amid worsening conflict in Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said Mr Bigzad’s original asylum claim had been “carefully considered” before being refused.

“We took action to comply with the court order [on 12 September] and worked to return Mr Bigzad as soon as possible despite significant logistical challenges in securing the necessary documentation and limited flight availability,” he added

“While we maintain that it was too late to disembark Mr Bigzad from the Istanbul to Kabul flight by the time the injunction was served, some 10 hours after the removal process began, the Home Office has followed the orders of the court and returned Mr Bigzad to the UK while he challenges the removal decision. The outcome of Mr Bigzad’s asylum claim remains unchanged.”

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