High Court challenge to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Rwanda deportation policy set for September

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Foreign Secretary Priti Patel (PA) (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Priti Patel (PA) (PA Wire)

Home Secretary Priti Patel has won the latest round in the battle over her controversial Rwanda deportation policy as judges refused to accept any more delays before hearing the case.

The government announced in April that it had struck a deal with the East African to handle asylum claims from migrants arriving in the UK by small boat.

The first flight was arranged for June, but was met with a barrage of legal challenges and eventually had to be scrapped after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. However, the Home Secretary has resolved to press ahead with the policy.

A collection of asylum seekers who are at risk of being sent to Rwanda are challenging the government, with a full Judicial Review set to test the lawfulness of the deportation policy.

At the High Court on Wednesday, Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift rejected a bid from the asylum seekers to delay the case until October, and accepted the Home Secretary’s request for a five-day hearing starting on September 5.

“We accept there is a strong public interest in hearing this claim as soon as reasonably possible”, the judges set out in their ruling.

“The challenge is to arrangements adopted by the government to give effect to a policy which it regards as in the public interest and which it considers may impact on the ability and willingness of person to risk dangerous journeys by lorry and small boats across the English Channel.

“There is a public interest in hearing the challenge as soon as reasonably and fairly possibly. All parties have agreed on the need for expedition.”

The judges said they believed a September hearing would enable the claimants to present their cases “fairly”, despite submissions yesterday from lawyers that they are facing a “hurtling pace” and struggling to be ready in time.

In written submissions, the Home Secretary suggested further delays to the case would thwart efforts to stop migrants from travelling to Britain on “illegal, unnecessary and dangerous journeys”.

“An adjournment to October or November may be particularly damaging to the public interest because, judging from the data for 2021, September and November 2021 were the two months with the highest numbers of people crossing by small boat”, the submissions set out.

At Tuesday’s hearing, it was revealed that officials in the Home Office and Foreign Office warned against striking a deal with Rwanda, citing “human rights grounds” as an issue.

The UK Commissioner to Rwanda suggested in February 2021 that the country “should not be pursued as an option for the planned migration policy”, and offered reasons to look elsewhere.

“(It) has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries”, a note says.

“(There is) a poor human rights record regardless of the conventions it has signed up to”, and Rwanda has been criticised by the UK for crackdowns on regime critics, killings, disappearances, and deaths in custody, court papers show.

Then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was briefed by officials in March 2021 that the UK would have to prepare to “constrain” its position on Rwanda’s human rights record if the country was selected in the Government’s policy, the court heard.

And a Foreign Office memo shows Downing Street was advised against engagement with a number of countries, including Rwanda.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has been given permission to intervene in the High Court case, and now his permission to submit further evidence in response to the Home Office case.

A challenge by charity Asylum Aid, which alleges “inherent unfairness in the system”, is set to be heard over two days from October 10.

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