Lawyers grounded a Home Office deportation flight of Channel migrants by claiming those who paid for their crossing were victims of trafficking, it emerged on Friday.
Three legal firms are understood to have successfully argued that returning the 23 migrants to Spain was a potential breach of their human rights or the European convention on trafficking, forcing the flight to be abandoned on Thursday.
Lawyers have also claimed that it is “irrational” to remove the migrants to Spain because of the health risks from its spike in coronavirus cases and reimposed lockdown.
It is thought to be the first time that all the migrants’ last-minute appeals on a single removal flight were upheld by immigration judges.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was said to be “furious” at the legal delay which undermined efforts to deter migrants from paying the £3,000 to cross the Channel by demonstrating that they would face deportation.
The Home Office said its “entirely legitimate and legal” returns of migrants were being frustrated by claims that were “very often baseless and entirely without merit.”
Spain had agreed to accept the 23 under EU rules that require asylum applications to processed in the first EU country they enter.
Ms Patel is planning to overhaul asylum laws which she has reportedly claimed are being “exploited by leftie Labour-supporting lawyers” who she says are doing everything to stop the Government removing people.
She is working on a “fair borders bill” later this year that would stop people drawing out the asylum applications process by making them declare all their grounds for refugee status when they apply, rather than being able to submit any new reasons later.
According to legal sources, 19 of the 23 issued new last-minute claims their human rights had been breached, of which three also claimed to have been trafficked. Another alleged trafficking, one was granted a court stay and two were refused by Spain as they were above their cap on numbers.
"It was the first time there was a 100 per cent legal attrition rate on the flight due to unprecedented and organised casework barriers sprung on the Government by law firms. We have lots more planned over the coming weeks and months. It is not going to deter us,” said a source.
Toufique Hossain, director of immigration at Duncan Lewis, one of the law firms, said: “The trafficking convention which the UK signed up to says that if there is a reasonable prospect or potential grounds for someone to be a victim of trafficking the UK has to investigate it before they go any further. They are bypassing that obligation to look at trafficking claims.”
He acknowledged trafficking claims might not be valid if the migrants had only come from mainland Europe.
However, he said: “The vast majority of trafficking claims are Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians coming through Europe via Libya and [are] victims of modern slavery and trafficking in Libya.”
He acknowledged many migrants’ cases were “last minute” but claimed they had been detained without access to lawyers which meant “they have only been able to get through to us through NGOs or by word of mouth in the last couple of days.”
He said those claiming under human rights to a family life had been denied the “time” or “opportunity” to have their claims properly investigated by the Home Office, which was why their removal was potentially unlawful.