Government’s Rwanda asylum policy is unlawful, Court of Appeal rules
Government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are unlawful, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a decision on Thursday, three judges overturned a High Court judgment that previously said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country”.
The Court of Appeal’s decision was announced by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett during a short hearing in London, where he stressed the court reached its conclusion on the law and took “no view whatever” about the political merits of the policy.
When asked by the PA news agency if the Rwandan government was considering intervening in the case in order to appeal against the ruling, a spokesman for the nation’s administration said: “The UK Government is considering an appeal.”
The Home Secretary Suella Braverman will make a statement in the House of Commons later on Thursday, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said.
Lord Burnett, who heard the appeal with Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill in April, said the court ruled by a majority that the policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
He told the court Sir Geoffrey and Lord Justice Underhill concluded that deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda mean there is a “real risk” asylum seekers could be returned to their home country and face persecution or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good claim for asylum.
He added the two judges found that: “In that sense Rwanda is not a ‘safe third country’.”
Lord Burnett, who disagreed with the other two judges and concurred with the High Court’s ruling, added: “That conclusion is founded on the evidence which was before the High Court that Rwanda’s system for deciding asylum claims was, in the period up to the conclusion of the Rwanda agreement, inadequate.
“The court is unanimous in accepting that the assurances given by the Rwandan government were made in good faith and were intended to address any defects in its asylum processes.
“However, the majority believes that the evidence does not establish that the necessary changes had by then been reliably effected or would have been at the time of the proposed removals.
“In consequence sending anyone to Rwanda would constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, with which Parliament has required that the Government must comply.”
Lord Burnett continued in a summary of the ruling: “The result is that the High Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed and that unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum process are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.”
He concluded: “The Court of Appeal makes clear that its decision implies no view whatever about the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy.
“Those are entirely a matter for the Government, on which the court has nothing to say.
“The court’s concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by Parliament.”
In a 161-page judgment, Sir Geoffrey, who was supported in his ruling by Lord Justice Underhill, said: “Our conclusion on the safety of Rwanda issue means that the Rwanda policy must be declared unlawful.”
The Rwandan government responded to the judgment to say it is “one of the safest countries in the world”.
The appeal comes after two judges at the High Court dismissed a series of legal bids against the plans in December last year, finding the Rwanda proposals were consistent with the Government’s legal obligations.
Lawyers for some individual asylum seekers and the charity Asylum Aid brought the challenge against their decision at the Court of Appeal.
At the appeal hearing in April, lawyers for the group of asylum seekers argued that the High Court “showed excessive deference” to the Home Office’s assessment that assurances made by the Rwandan authorities “provide a sufficient guarantee to protect relocated asylum-seekers” from a risk of torture or inhumane treatment.
The three appeal judges were told that material provided by the Rwandan authorities “lacked credibility, consisting of blanket denials and clear contradictions”.
Lawyers for the Home Office opposed the appeal, telling the court the Rwandan government has “indicated a clear willingness to co-operate with international monitoring mechanisms” and that there are “reciprocal obligations with strong incentives for compliance”.
Lord Burnett said on Thursday that there was a “deliberately tight timetable” to decide the consequences of the Court of Appeal’s decision, in part so any bid to for the go-ahead to challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court “can be decided promptly”.
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