Government to appeal Afghan hijacker ruling

Government pledges to appeal against Afghan hijacker ruling
Government pledges to appeal against Afghan hijacker ruling

The government has set itself up for a standoff with the judiciary after insisting a ruling allowing nine Afghan hijackers to stay in Britain was "inexplicable".

John Reid said the government would appeal yesterday's high court decision that nine Afghan asylum seekers who hijacked a plane to fly them to Britain should be granted permanent leave to remain in the country.

The home secretary insisted the decision would appear "inexplicable or bizarre" to the general public, and only reinforced the view that courts were not there to protect "ordinary, decent, hard-working citizens in this country".

"That is a perception that should worry all of us and it is a perception that all of us should be working to put right," Mr Reid told reporters this morning.


His comments came after Tony Blair condemned the decision as an "abuse of commonsense". In an unusual personal intervention, he said: "We can't have a situation in which people who hijack a plane we're not able to deport back to their country.

"It's not an abuse of justice for us to order their deportation, it's an abuse of commonsense frankly to be in a position where we can't do this.

"And we can and have taken measures to strengthen our immigration system, but we really need to be in a position where we can align policy in this area with what I think are the instincts not of unreasonable people in Britain, but reasonable people."

In yesterday's ruling, the judge accused the government of a "conspicuous unfairness amounting to an abuse of power" for failing to grant the Afghans permanent leave to remain in the six years since the hijacking.

Mr Justice Sullivan said the government had "deliberately delayed" implementing a ruling two years ago that under human rights law the nine Afghans could not be deported, as Afghanistan was still too dangerous.

The Conservatives seized on the ruling as evidence that the government was being restricted by its own human rights laws from doing what was necessary for public safety, and the home secretary's defiant stance today suggests a similar frustration.

However, last night the attorney general praised the Human Rights Act, which Labour introduced in 1998 to bring the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into English law, as one of the government's "greatest achievements".

Lord Goldsmith said the ECHR "remains a statement of all that democracy stands for", and managed to balance the rights of individuals against the rights of the community.

He acknowledged that the government was "constantly being criticised for striking the wrong balance", both from the right, where people think it protects terrorists and criminals, and from the left, where people believe it gives too much power to the state.

"Such criticism is inevitable. Furthermore, we must expect that there will be a wide divergence of views on such difficult issues at every level of society including within the judiciary - there are no obvious right answers," Lord Goldsmith added.

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