Home Secretary Theresa May has won a human rights fight over where foreign criminals can be held pending deportation after serving jail terms.
An Algerian illegal immigrant convicted of theft complained that he was unfairly held in a prison after completing his sentence.
Fouad Idira said he should have been detained in an immigration removal centre.
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He said keeping him in prison was a breach of his right to liberty - enshrined in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But a leading judge has concluded that immigration detention in prison rather than in an immigration removal centre is not generally a breach of the right to liberty.
Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls and the second most senior judge in England and Wales, had headed a three-strong panel of judges which analysed the issues at a Court of Appeal hearing in London.
The two other judges on the panel - Sir Brian Leveson and Lord Justice McCombe - agreed.
"For some vulnerable detainees, detention in prison may be seriously inappropriate," said Lord Dyson.
"But it must depend on the vulnerability of the detainee and the nature of the prison conditions."
He added: "A prison is not an inappropriate ... place in which to detain an able-bodied man who is due to be removed from the country on the ground that his criminality makes his departure conducive to the public good and whom the public interest requires to be detained while that is arranged."