A plan by the UK government to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful, the High Court has ruled, with charities quickly saying they would consider appealing against the decision.
The London court had been asked to rule on the legality of the policy, which was announced in April 2022 and has been endorsed by the prime minister Rishi Sunak.
The ruling means people who have arrived “illegally” in Britain since January 2022 would be eligible for removal to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be determined.
The policy has been heavily criticised by many MPs as well as by rights groups. On Monday, home secretary Suella Braverman welcomed the ruling, but the groups behind the lawsuit say they are considering an appeal so the case could rumble on for months.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Braverman said the judgment “thoroughly vindicates” the Rwanda partnership. She added that deportation to the central African country was not a “punishment” but an “innovative way” of addressing the imbalance “between illegal and legal migration routes”.
“It is a humane and practical alternative for those who come here through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary routes,” she said. “By making it clear that they cannot expect to stay in the UK, we will deter more people from coming here and make such routes unviable.”
The High Court ruled on Monday on two separate but linked legal challenges — including one brought by eight individuals at risk of removal, as well as two non-government organisations and the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants. All argued that the policy was unlawful and would breach rights laws.
A second legal challenge was brought by the charity Asylum Aid, which argued that the scheme was “inherently unlawful” because people had limited time to appeal against their removal.
The court ruled that the government policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda was lawful and said arrangements made with Kigali complied with UK obligations under the 1998 Human Rights Act. It said the scheme was also consistent with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a signatory.
However, the court added that the government had failed to consider properly the personal circumstances of the eight individuals who brought the judicial review and who faced removal earlier this year. Their cases will have to be reconsidered afresh by the Home Office.
The deaths last week of four people while they tried to cross the English Channel in an inflatable boat have intensified pressure on ministers to reduce the record levels of clandestine crossings. Immigration and asylum have been rising up voters’ priorities, according to a YouGov survey.
So far, no asylum seekers have been flown to Rwanda from Britain, after the first government flight in June was blocked by an order from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The scheme has been put on hold while the UK courts determine its legality, a process that could continue if appeals are lodged.
James Wilson, deputy director of Detention Action, which was among those who brought the legal challenge, said the rights charity was considering an appeal. “We are disappointed that the High Court has found the removal of refugees to an autocratic state which tortures and kills people is lawful. However, we will fight on,” he said.
Alison Pickup, director of Asylum Aid, said: “We’ll be looking closely at this judgment to see if there are any grounds for an appeal.”
Josie Naughton, chief executive of Choose Love, an organisation that helped fund the Asylum Aid lawsuit, said: “Today is a dark moment for upholding human rights in the UK.”
- Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022