The asylum seeker's champion

Conflict between the Government and the courts continues unabated with the latest in a string of rulings overturning the decisions of ministers coming on 21 June.

The controversial Court of Appeal ruling centred on rules introduced in February by Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley which banned payment of benefits to those seeking asylum in the UK.

On 21 June, London specialist civil rights firm Christian Fisher hailed the ruling as a major victory for civil rights. But later that day, Lilley branded the decision a charter for social security abuse. And on Monday this week he is scheduled to attempt to overturn the Asylum and Immigration Bill in the House of Lords in a bid to overcome the effect of the judgment.

In a two-to-one majority ruling, Lord Justice Simon Brown branded the ban on benefits as a move which would leave asylum seekers "so destitute that to my mind no civilised nation can tolerate it". Lord Justice Waite added that Lilley's regulations rendered "valueless" the rights of asylum seekers to have their claims to remain in the UK considered fairly.

Lilley said after the ruling: "The effect of today's judgment is to reinstate entitlement to public money for large numbers of people, over 90 per cent of whom are economic migrants masquerading as asylum seekers. I very much fear that if the law is left as it stands today we can see a fresh flood of bogus claimants."

Whatever the next moves, in the Christian Fisher camp the appeal ruling is seen as a triumph. The case was headed by partner Louise Christian, backed by Daniel Machover, and counsel were specialists in the field Nick Blakee QC and Francis Webb.

Machover said the legal principles on which the Court of Appeal reached its decision were important.

Christian Fisher argued that the Government's blocking regulations went behind primary legislation and that this rendered the moves unlawful.

The Court of Appeal agreed and Machover said the ruling gave a clear warning to the Government on handling the introduction of regulations in all sectors of legislation.

He said the firm had always seen the case as difficult but "we would not have gone for it if we did not think we could win". A major problem from the outset was funding but the case won the backing of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). Machover said that despite the importance of the case in immigration circles the "enormous costs at risk" did pose a real problem.

"The JCWI made a very brave decision to go ahead with this knowing it could bankrupt them," he said.

But as well as costs the action still required the legal brains and Machover said a major reason for the success was down to the forward thinking of Christian.

"She is a specialist in the civil rights field and had identified the legal point relating to the new regulations going behind primary regulations at an early stage," he said. "Spotting the legal point quickly enough and acting on it is important in cases such as this."