An angry judge accused the Home Office of arrogance and lying after it failed to heed his order to send a senior immigration officer to the trial of a serial shoplifter who was due to be deported two years ago.
Judge Timothy Nash, presiding at Canterbury Crown Court, accused officials of considering themselves above the law.
Before the court was Mohammed Gaparkhoev, a failed asylum seeker who, in January, allegedly committed his latest breach of an anti-social behaviour order banning him from entering shops.
The judge halted the case when nobody from the Home Office attended to give details of the immigration status of Gaparkhoev, 30, a heroin addict who arrived in Dover from Russia in 2001 in the back of a lorry.
Gaparkhoev was ordered to be deported in 2004 but had not received a single visit from immigration officials, the court heard.
In the meantime, he had embarked on a shoplifting spree in Folkestone and had twice been jailed for breaching his Asbo.
The judge had ordered the Home Office to attend Friday's hearing in a letter sent by the Crown Prosecution Service in May.
"This is a Government department not prepared to help another Government department in the administration of justice," he said.
"I have seldom come across such arrogance. . . They [the Home Office] consider themselves to be above the law and they will find they are not."
Judith King, of the CPS, told the court that the Home Office had denied any knowledge of the court order despite being told in a letter sent on May 24.
She said: "I rang the Immigration and Nationality Directorate this morning and that department is now denying all knowledge."
Judge Nash, clearly annoyed, told Mrs King to tell the Home Office to produce an official in court within four hours.
"How convenient - burying their heads in the sand and telling lies," he said. "I am not impressed.
"One of the things I was taught as a kid is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Clearly the Home Office thinks it is a law unto itself."
Just after 4pm - five hours after the case had been due to start - Brian Finegan, the assistant director of operations for the criminal casework team at the Immigration Service, arrived in court.
"The first I heard of today's hearing was this morning at 11am," he said, as he apologised to the court.
However, it was Anna Gaparkhoev, the accused's English-born wife, who was sitting in the public gallery, who provided the judge with her husband's immigration papers. They showed that he was due to have an appeal against deportation heard in August.
Adjourning the case until September, the judge thanked Mr Finegan for coming but added: "I have not been overly impressed by what I have heard. I was right when I said the left hand is not talking to the right."
The Home Office said yesterday that it had ordered an investigation into what went wrong.