Scores of Sri Lankans, due to have been deported from the UK on a government charter flight on Thursday afternoon, have had their removal orders overturned by high court judges. About 40 failed asylum-seekers - most of whom are thought to be Tamils - were granted dramatic last-minute stays.
Immigration lawyers ascribe the judges' apparent change of heart to serious concerns over Sri Lanka's dismal human rights record and the risk that those forcibly returned face arbitrary arrest and torture. The judgements affected around half of the estimated 70 to 80 Tamils due to have been sent back to Sri Lanka on flight PVT030 from Stansted.
Two senior barristers with the London-based Renaissance Chambers, which specialises in human rights and immigration law, say the judgements are very unusual. Nishan Paramjorthy and Shivani Jegarajah say they represent a judicial shot across the bows of the British government.
"Judicial attitudes have changed," said Mr Paramjorthy. "Previously hard-line judges are granting stays, mostly on grounds of risk upon return."
Channel 4 News has obtained a copy of one judgement, by the Honourable Mr Justice Eady, which cites as the reason for his granting a stay of removal: "The recent Human Rights Watch report, dated 29.05.2012 suggests that there may be new evidence relevant to the risk of ill treatment."
We are unable to publish the document because the proceedings are ongoing and live.
The High Court judge orders "that the secretary of state be restrained from removing the applicant from this jurisdiction." Today's flight was the fifth British government charter flight to Sri Lanka since June last year. The flights are shrouded in secrecy and the UK Border Agency has a policy of not commenting on them.( Channel 4)