A VIETNAMESE dissident was put on a plane back to Hanoi two hours before a judgment was delivered on his case in the High Court yesterday. Do Manh Tuan, a 26-year-old poet, had applied for legal aid in his fight for refugee status. But the Government decided to repatriate him before his application had been considered. Tuan's lawyers found out about the move through another boat person and launched a dramatic last-minute attempt to stop him being put on the flight. His barrister, Paul Harris, argued it was unfair to repatriate him while the Legal Aid Department was still considering the merits of his claim to refugee status. But Mr Justice Brian Keith rejected Tuan's application after a hastily arranged court hearing on Monday evening. The judge told his solicitors of the decision over the telephone at 11 pm, then delivered his judgment in court yesterday morning. By that time Tuan was already on a flight back to Vietnam. Mr Justice Keith said the Government had made it clear repatriation would not be postponed simply because an application had been made for legal aid. Tuan's solicitor, Robert Brook, described the decision as 'a travesty of justice'. He said Tuan, who feared persecution in Vietnam because of his political views, had been denied a fair hearing because he could not afford a lawyer. The delay in processing his application for legal aid meant he was repatriated before having a proper opportunity to pursue his case in court. The decision may affect other boat people, estimated to be around 500, waiting to hear if they will be granted legal aid. Mr Brook said an appeal has not been ruled out even though Tuan was now in Vietnam. 'It would be difficult. But this has set such an important precedent.' During Monday's hearing, William Marshall QC, for the Government, opposed Tuan's application, warning that boat people should not be allowed to use an application for legal aid as a means of prolonging their time in Hong Kong. Tuan first came to Hong Kong in 1989 but was returned five years later when refused refugee status. During his time in Hong Kong he joined four pro-democracy groups and wrote anti-communist poetry which was published in an American magazine. On his return to Vietnam, he was interrogated, denied employment, and warned he would be the first to be arrested if there was any political instability. The Refugee Status Review Board accepted the factual basis of Tuan's claims but ruled he did not have a well-founded fear of persecution and could not be recognised as a refugee.