Human Rights, Public Law, Asylum & Immigration

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Yorkshire Post

7 April 2006

The High Court yesterday condemned the Home Office for showing “an unacceptable disregard of the rule of law” in the case of a Croatian husband and his pregnant wife held in detention for 15 days.

In the judgment, believed to be unprecedented, Home Office immigration officials were accused by a judge of “improperly” detaining the couple deliberately to minimise their access to lawyers in order to “spirit them away” from Britain .

It is not the first time that members of the judiciary have expressed concern over the way failed asylum-seekers and other foreign nationals have been treated as the Home Office acts to counter criticism that deportations are not being carried out fast enough.

But yesterday’s criticism by Mr Justice Munby, sitting at the High Court in London, was the most hard-hitting.

He said: “What the present case and others like it reveal is at best an unacceptable disregard by the Home Office of the rule of law – at worst an unacceptable disdain by the Home Office for the rule of law, which is as depressing as it ought to be concerning.”

The couple, Predrag Karas and Stanislava Milandinovic, both of Serbian origin, were held for 15 days in October 2004 after they were arrested following moves to deport them back to Croatia.

Their lawyers said they were subjected to a “night raid” at their home by seven immigration officers, “denied access to lawyers until the early hours of the morning and held for 15 days with no good reason”.

Their solicitor, Jovanka Savic, said they had always maintained contact with the Home Office, and they had an application for permission to remain in the UK which had been awaiting a decision for three years.

In a move which will add further embarrassment to the Home Office, Mr Justice Munby ruled the couple were entitled to seek damages against the Home Secretary for unlawful detention in October 2004.

The couple have now exhausted all their legal challenges to remain in Britain and once again face removal – but in court Government lawyers agreed not to sent them back to Croatia while they seek both aggravated and exemplary damages.

Mr Justice Munby said he wished to draw attention to the “insouciant manner” in which Home Secretary Charles Clarke had chosen to conduct his defence to the claims against the Home Office. There had been no appropriately detailed explanations.

He said the Secretary of State had confined himself “to almost threadbare legal arguments”.

Mr Justice Munby said, on the evidence before him, there was no justification for detaining the couple.

The Home Office claimed their detention was lawful as they were about to be removed from the country and detention was “reasonably proportionate in order to achieve an orderly and speedy removal”.

But, said the judge, detention in the circumstances was “oppressive, unreasonable and unnecessary”.