The Home Office has been unlawfully detaining asylum seekers while their immigration cases were being assessed, the Court of Appeal has ruled in a landmark judgment.

A judgement handed down on Thursday means that dozens of people, and potentially hundreds, could have been wrongly placed in immigration removal centres while their claims were considered under the Dublin III regulation.

Under Dublin III, asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. If they arrive in the UK and claim asylum and they passed through another safe country first, the Home Office can send them back to that country.

The law states that the government can detain people being assessed under the regulation if they are at “significant risk of absconding”.

But the appellants in the case, five men from Iraq and Afghanistan who were detained between January 2014 and March 2017, were not, by the Home Office’s admission, deemed to be in this category.

The judgment means that anybody detained under Dublin III regulations from 1 January 2014, when it came into force, until 15 March 2017, were unlawfully detained, as the domestic law at the time set out no criteria for their “risk of absconding”.

Bahar Ata of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, the firm that represented the detainees, said the implications of the ruling were “widespread” and that while it was difficult to say how many people would be affected, it was dozens and could possibly run into the hundreds.

She told The Independent the case demonstrated “yet another example of [Home Office] policy of unlawfully detaining asylum seekers, without proper consideration of their claims”.

It comes after it emerged that asylum seekers were being left to “languish” in removal centres for months on end after being granted bail because the Home Office refused to fulfil its duty to provide asylum accommodation to enable their release.

The government has also recently been accused of waiting for migrants and asylum seekers to “give up” and leave the country by holding them in detention rather than resolving their cases efficiently.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are carefully considering the next steps.”

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