The UK government’s “disappointment” over a court ruling last week blocking the deportation of Jamaican nationals does not “justify an attack on the constitution or threats to dismantle it,” the High Court was told on Tuesday.
The claim by Chris Buttler, a barrister representing the charity that had successfully challenged the order at the Court of Appeal to forcibly remove the 25 who had all served prison sentences, reflect fears that the government could seek to fast-track its review into changing the law on judicial review as a result.
Mr Buttler told the court that the case was “an example of judicial review working as it should”. He said the Court of Appeal judges had ruled that the deportees’ removal “would violate the ancient English right of access to lawyers”.
Detention Action won the last-minute reprieve on the grounds that problems with mobile phones at immigration detention centres prevented the deportees from access to legal advice. Despite the ruling, the government went ahead and deported 17 people who it said were not covered by the judgment.
The government attacked last week’s court order claiming it allowed convicted criminals to escape deportation. Boris Johnson was said to be “furious” and Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, reportedly described it as the “perfect symbol of the British state’s dysfunction”.
Mr Johnson has pledged to conduct a sweeping review of the constitutional relationship between the government and the courts, which will be overseen by Michael Gove, cabinet officer minister, in the form of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission that will examine judicial review.
In an apparent sign of the government’s intent, Mr Johnson last week appointed Suella Braverman, who recently launched an attack on “unaccountable judges”, as the new attorney-general.
Mr Buttler told the court on Tuesday that “any government worth its salt” would recognise that judicial review was a “cornerstone of the constitution.”
In written arguments to the court Mr Buttler claimed that the line of the government’s attack on the court decision was “misplaced” as the case was not about the merits of deporting the individuals concerned. Instead it was about the “ancient constitutional right of access to justice” and it was the duty of the courts to uphold that access. He added that to “contend that this is ‘dysfunctional’ is a betrayal of our most fundamental constitutional values”.
Detention Action told the court it was seeking evidence that the Home Office had complied with the court order as well as evidence about whether any detainees had been removed from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres without having been offered a functioning phone sim card for the whole of their removal notice period.
The Home Office argues the Detention Action case is now “academic” because the deportation flight left on February 11. It will now write to the charity with a response and argues the case should be dismissed.