A campaign group has hailed a judge’s decision to halt a flight due to take asylum seekers from Britain to Spain as a “victory for humanity”.
Three men, who arrived in Britain on small boats during the summer and are being held in an immigration detention centre, mounted a High Court challenge in a bid to halt the flight to Madrid, which had been chartered by Home Office officials.
Their lawyers raised concerns about asylum-seekers being left homeless and destitute in Madrid and said more investigations were needed into Spanish immigrant reception facilities.
Lawyers representing Home Secretary Priti Patel argued that the flight should be allowed to leave and said Spanish authorities could be trusted to comply with their obligations to asylum seekers.
Sir Duncan Ouseley on Wednesday ruled in favour of the three men, and said the flight should not leave, after analysing issues at a High Court hearing in London.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, which campaigns for reform of the immigration detention system, said: “This is a landmark victory for human rights, our common humanity and the rule of law.
“Of course the UK must not deport those fleeing persecution to near-certain homelessness and destitution.
“That the courts must step in to prevent this injustice should shame Priti Patel but will instead enrage her.
“Three cheers for the lawyers who have ensured this Government, despite its best efforts, is still not above the law.”
Ms Patel said earlier: “We are bitterly disappointed with the court’s ruling, which has prevented us from returning people who have no right to be here.
“This case has not abated our determination and we have more flights planned in the coming weeks and months.”
The three men, a Syrian and two from Yemen, travelled to Britain from north Africa, but had first set foot on the European mainland in Spain, the judge heard.
Spanish authorities agreed they should be returned to make asylum claims in Spain.
Other deportees due to be on the flight, which was scheduled to take off early on Thursday, were thought to be in a similar position.
Lawyers representing the three men said there had been criticism of Spanish reception facilities, with reports of asylum seekers being forced to sleep rough because the border post at Madrid Airport had been “overwhelmed by demand”.
The three men were vulnerable and had mental health issues, lawyers said.
Sir Duncan said the men’s lawyers had raised a serious issue related to immigrant reception facilities in Madrid.
He said the charter flight should not leave until that issue had been fully investigated at a trial.
The three men were not named at the hearing.