Stanstead hijacking - when will the Government accept defeat?


In February 2000 all eyes in the UK were focused on a plane at Stanstead airport. A number of passengers on board had taken over control of the plane; there was a standoff for three days before all passengers disembarked.

Subsequently nine of those on board Afghani nationals were charged, convicted and sentenced in December 2001 of false imprisonment, possessing firearms with intent to cause fear of violence and possessing explosives.

In May 2003, Lord Justice Longmore, Mr Justice Hooper and Mrs Justice Cox ruled the convictions were "unsafe" because the law relating to whether the men had acted under duress had been wrongly applied at their trial. Only two of those convicted were still in jail at the time and were released immediately.

Unfortunately that was not the end of the story the Home Office tried to remove the Afghanis from the UK, however the courts decided they should not be removed as their lives would be in danger. The Home Office have stubbornly refused to accept the decision.

The case came back to the courts last Wednesday and the Home Office have been severely rebuked for abuse of power.

Below is a statement from the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA)

Afghan decision: Government sets itself above rule of law

In 2004 the government argued that the men could be safely returned to Afghanistan. They lost. They did not challenge the decision at the time. Instead, they ignored it. Now the courts have told the government that they are not above the law: they cannot with impunity ignore a court judgment they did not challenge. In this respect, the government is in the same boat as the rest of us. The government’s reaction to this has been to lash out at individual judges, a reaction that has no place in a democratic society that respects the rule of law.

This week’s case was not about whether the men were guilty of hijacking nor about whether they should be allowed to remain in the UK. Those matters were decided years ago. The case was about the government’s failure to give effect to the judgment by failing to regularise the men’s immigration status in the UK, not attempting to remove them but leaving in them in limbo.

The criminal conviction of these men for hi-jacking was overturned in 2003. By the time this happened, seven of the men had served their full sentence and two had nearly done so. They had already served the criminal sentence for hijacking although as a result of their appeal they had not been found not guilty of it. To refer to them as criminals or terrorists is inaccurate. Nonetheless, the men were found to be excluded from the Refugee Convention because of their actions. The reason that the men remain in the country is that it was found that on return they would face a real risk of torture or other inhuman and degrading treatment.

In this week's case the Home Office's conduct of the litigation was so far below what is acceptable from any party before the UK courts that the judge used special powers to punish them for their behaviour. He said "It is difficult to conceive of a clearer case of conspicuous unfairness amounting to an abuse of power. It is our money that they wasted, and our courts that they mocked. Many may wish to reflect on whether they want to cheer on the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for this behaviour."

Immigration Law Practitioners' Association



May 2006

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