Britain has been unlawfully accommodating unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels on a "systematic and routine" basis for more than a year, London's High Court ruled on Thursday.
Judge Martin Chamberlain upheld a legal challenge brought by Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) over the accommodation of unaccompanied children seeking asylum, many of whom have crossed the Channel in small boats.
ECPAT said Britain's Home Office was unlawfully housing children in hotels and had unlawfully agreed that Kent County Council, the local authority in which most asylum seekers arrive, would only accept a capped number of children.
The Home Office did not have an immediate comment on the ruling.
Asylum-seeking children can be accommodated in hotels for 'very short periods' of time
Chamberlain said in a written ruling that asylum-seeking children can be accommodated in hotels for "very short periods in true emergency situations".
But he added: "From December 2021 at the latest, the practice of accommodating children in hotels, outside local authority care, was both systematic and routine and had become an established part of the procedure for dealing with (unaccompanied asylum-seeking) children.
"From that point on, the Home Secretary's provision of hotel accommodation for (unaccompanied asylum-seeking) children exceeded the proper limits of her powers (and) was unlawful."
ECPAT's CEO Patricia Durr said in a statement that the ruling: "serves as a clear and timely reminder that neither central nor local government departments can depart from the statutory child welfare framework and the duties towards all children".