Today (29/06/2023), the Court of Appeal reversed the High Court decision in AAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) on 19th December 2023 where it was held that removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda was lawful.
In today’s ruling, the Court of Appeal confirmed that any removals of asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
On 14th April 2022, the UK government announced that they have an agreement with the Republic of Rwanda, whereby asylum seekers will be sent to the Rwanda for processing. The UK published the Memorandum of Understanding highlighting the agreement.
This decision has been a cause for huge controversy and outrage. We had concerns as to whether such removals would breach an asylum seekers fundamental right under the European Convention of Human Rights, and whether the UK would be breaching their international obligations under the Refugee Convention.
AAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD)
Many were eagerly awaiting the decision in AAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) on 19th December 2023, where the Court made a judgement as to whether expulsion of asylum seekers to Rwanda to process their asylum claims was deemed lawful.
This case concerned the legality of removal of 11 claimants. During the hearing a large number of grounds and arguments was presented before the court against the government plans to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The court did not agree and found that Rwanda was sufficiently safe country and the inadmissibility and removal notification process undertaken by the Home Office in identifying and removing asylum seekers to Rwanda was found to be sufficiently fair.
In our previous article on this topic, we commented that the findings in AAA v Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) that Rwanda is a safe country, and that the admissibility process is procedurally fair, will have a huge impact on asylum seekers in the future. Of course, we also stated that this would be the case unless those findings were successfully challenged on appeal or on the basis of fresh evidence.
Fortunately, the decision made by the High Court was appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Court of Appeal
Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, told the court that two of the three judges concluded that deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda meant there was a “real risk” that asylum seekers could be returned to their home country – and then face persecution or other inhumane treatment there. He said the two judges found that: “In that sense Rwanda is not a ‘safe third country”.
Lord Burnett was the only dissenting voice, with the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, and Lord Justice Underhill finding that Rwanda was not a safe third country. Lord Burnett went on to emphasise that the decision by the Court of Appeal was not political, and that “The court’s concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by Parliament”.
All other grounds, other than Rwanda’s status as a safe third country were dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
This is a much-welcomed decision by the Court of Appeal. We were unable to see how the UK could meet their obligations in dealing with asylum claims overseas.
The Prime Minister has revealed the government’s intention to appeal to the Supreme Court, stating “I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries – something that the Lord Chief Justice agrees with”. However, in order to appeal to the Supreme Court, the government will need permission from the Court of Appeal. We must all wait to see if they do so.
Of course, the nuclear option would be for the government to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights, something they have previously ruled out.
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