By Peter Walker
A high court judge has ordered the Home Office to halt the deportation of foreign nationals with almost no warning after a legal challenge argued the process denies people access to justice before they are removed.
Immigration lawyers say officials have used the policy, introduced in 2007, to swoop late at night and escort people to flights leaving only a few hours later, meaning they cannot speak to a lawyer and challenge the order.
In one recent case, a seriously ill Cameroon national was arrested at 10.30pm scheduled to be put on board a charter flight leaving at 6.30am. A friend managed to call the man's solicitor, who in turn found a barrister to apply to a duty judge. The judge – roused from his bed – granted an injunction at 1.30am, calling the manner of the deportation "completely unconscionable".
"It was pure chance that I was up late working on another case and received the call," said the solicitor, Hani Zubeidi. "Otherwise I'd have got to the office the next day to find my client had already left the UK without me knowing about it."
UK Border Agency regulations guarantee those facing deportation a minimum 72-hour notice. But in March 2007 officials were allowed to waive this for unaccompanied children – who cannot be detained before removal and were thus seen as likely to abscond – or those viewed at risk of self-harm or suicide.
In January this year three other exceptions were added: people seen as being a threat to others, who might cause serious disruption or who have given permission for their own deportation.
The so-called zero-notice removal policy was challenged in the high court by the campaign group Medical Justice. Mr Justice Cranston ordered the Home Office to halt it before a full hearing next month.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We will implement the court's order with immediate effect."