Asylum Aid considers appeal to Rwanda judgment
Judgment is an 'immense disappointment' – Leigh Day
Legal charity Asylum Aid has said it is considering an appeal after High Court judges ruled the Home Office procedure for removing refugees from the UK to Rwanda is lawful. However, the court found certain decisions taken in relation to eight individuals were unlawful because the home secretary did not properly consider their circumstances.
Following a judicial review claim heard in October, judges ruled the fast track procedure – which allows officials to place asylum seekers on a flight to Rwanda within 12 or 19 days of receiving notice they could be sent to Rwanda – is fair, and allows them enough time to obtain legal advice, gather the necessary evidence and make adequate representations.
The procedure for processing asylum seekers’ claims under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) with Rwanda does not make an unlawful presumption about the general safety of Rwanda, judges said in the ruling handed down today (19 December).
The judgment was given with a ruling on separate claims about the lawfulness of the Rwanda policy brought by a number of individuals affected by the policy. In representations for that claim, heard in September, the court was told about Rwanda’s poor human rights record, that senior civil servants had warned against the policy, and that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had serious concerns about Rwanda’s capacity to deal with asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the court found that while individual decisions were wrong, the removal scheme itself is lawful.
Asylum Aid, represented by law firm Leigh Day, had argued in its claim that the procedure, which mirrors the curtailed process previously used for decisions on removals to European Union (EU) countries under the Dublin III Agreement when the UK was a member of the EU, did not allow enough time for proper legal advice and evidence to be obtained and representations to be made.
The procedure involves a screening interview, following which, if the Home Office deems a person suitable for removal, a notice of intent for removal to Rwanda is served on them with seven or 14 days’ notice to present reasons supported by evidence why they should not be removed to Rwanda (seven days is for individuals in immigration detention). At the end of that period, five working days’ notice may be given of the removal date.
Asylum Aid argued the decision to adopt a curtailed process was an error of law, a serious impediment to access to justice, and failed to discharge the home secretary’s duty to give careful, individualised consideration to each case.
Those three grounds were dismissed in the judgment which said the procedure did not present a risk that individuals may be removed from the UK without having had effective access to legal advice and the courts.
Following the judgment, the Law Society has commented that proper access to justice for any person considered for removal to Rwanda must remain paramount in Home Office decision-making.
Asylum Aid had argued the MEDP with Rwanda meant more time was needed than under the Dublin III Agreement where there was a statutory assurance of safety which was not matched in Rwanda.
Responding to the judgment, Alison Pickup, director of Asylum Aid, said: “We will be looking closely at this judgment to see if there are any grounds for an appeal. Meanwhile, we urge the Home Secretary to re-think this inhumane policy and come up with one that can give us all faith in the asylum decision-making process. One that treats asylum applications with the seriousness they deserve and respects the human dignity of those seeking sanctuary here.”
Leigh Day solicitor Carolin Ott said: “Today’s ruling that the fast-track process to remove refugees to Rwanda is lawful is an immense disappointment to our client. Asylum Aid remains seriously concerned that the curtailed process that has been adopted to forcibly remove asylum seekers from the UK means they will be denied effective access to legal advice and the court. The fact that individual decisions have been deemed unlawful highlights the flaws in the procedure.
"Although decisions in individual cases have been deemed unlawful, that does not address the serious continuing risk that individuals will not be able to make their case due the curtailed process.
“Asylum Aid believes that without being allowed enough time to seek legal representation and where appropriate, make their case to the court, many vulnerable individuals will be wrongly removed and sent to a country where a blanket assessment of safety remains questionable. Asylum Aid will be considering its legal options.”
Law Society president Lubna Shuja commented: “This policy has far-reaching consequences for those affected and it is absolutely vital each case is properly considered on its facts, as is made clear in today’s judgment”.
She added: “Today’s decision on the lawfulness of the policy is likely to be taken to the Court of Appeal and it may therefore still be some time before the matter is completely settled.
“Whatever the final outcome, we hope the government will commit to taking a measured approach and continue to review its obligations under international and domestic law”.
Shuja said: “When considering individual cases, the government should always assess whether removing the individual would be in breach of their human rights.
“The government must ensure that any affected individual has proper access to a lawyer, that the specific facts of each case are scrupulously considered by the Home Office and enough time is provided for people to challenge a removal, when appropriate”.
Asylum Aid is represented by Leigh Day solicitors Tessa Gregory, Stephanie Hill and Carolin Ott. Counsel instructed are Charlotte Kilroy KC and Harry Adamson of Blackstone Chambers and Michelle Knorr and Sarah Dobbie of Doughty Street Chambers.