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Supreme Court declares the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful


The Supreme Court (Lords Reed, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones, Briggs and Sales) has today handed down a judgment unanimously upholding the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that the government’s policy to send certain asylum seekers to Rwanda and have their asylum claims determined by the authorities in that country is unlawful.

The Court of Appeal had concluded, by a majority of 2:1, that the policy was unlawful because Rwanda was not a safe country to which to send asylum seekers. This was because there were substantial grounds for believing that there was a real risk that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their home countries where they would face ill treatment, in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement.

In a judgment given by Lords Reed and Lloyd-Jones (with whom the other judges agreed) the Supreme Court dismissed the Home Secretary’s appeal against this decision. The Supreme Court concluded that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers, based on evidence as to (i) Rwanda’s poor human rights record; (ii) defects in Rwanda’s procedures and institutions for processing asylum claims; and (iii) Rwanda’s recent failure to comply with the non-refoulement principle in an agreement for the removal of asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had been granted leave to intervene in the proceedings and had given evidence as to the safety of Rwanda. The Supreme Court held that evidence given by UNHCR was of “particular importance” given UNHCR’s status, role, expertise and experience, and that the Divisional Court had been wrong to conclude otherwise.

The Supreme Court held that it was not necessary to decide whether the Divisional Court, which had rejected the claimant’s first-instance challenge to the policy, had applied the correct legal test in determining the question of Rwanda’s safety. This was because, even if it had applied the right test, the Court of Appeal had been entitled to interfere with its decision because there were errors in the Divisional Court’s treatment of the evidence.

The Supreme Court dismissed a further cross-appeal brought by one of the claimants that the Rwanda policy is unlawful on the basis that it is incompatible with retained UE law.

TheUKSC press release and judgment can be found here.

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

Aarushi Sahore appeared as junior counsel on behalf of UNHCR, instructed by Baker McKenzie, at an earlier stage of the proceedings.  

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