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Court of Appeal declares relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful


The Court of Appeal (the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Underhill) has today handed down a landmark decision in a judicial review concerning the legality of the Government’s policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Appellants were a number of asylum seekers and NGOs who challenged the policy of the Government to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing their claims overseas rather than in the UK. The challenges focused on whether Rwanda was correctly determined by the Government to be a safe third country for processing claims. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) was permitted to make submissions and rely on evidence as an interested party.

The Divisional Court (Lewis LJ and Swift J) had found the policy to be lawful in December 2022 (see here). However, following a four-day appeal hearing in April 2023, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision.

The Court of Appeal held by a majority of 2:1 (the Lord Chief Justice dissenting) that the policy of removal was unlawful. The majority (the Master of the Rolls and Underhill LJ each writing separately) found that the deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda were such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they faced persecution and other mistreatment. This would be contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As a result, the Divisional Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country was reversed; the Court concluded that unless and until the deficiencies in the asylum system are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.

The Court’s summary can be found here and the judgment here.

Tim Johnston, Emma Mockford, and Ali Al-Karim appeared as junior counsel on behalf of the “AAA” Claimants, instructed by Duncan Lewis. 

Jennifer MacLeod, Aarushi Sahore and Joshua Pemberton appeared as junior counsel on behalf of UNHCR, instructed by Baker McKenzie.