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UK lawyers could be stationed in Rwandan courts under new treaty

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, could fly to Rwanda as early as Monday to sign the deal
James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, could fly to Rwanda as early as Monday to sign the deal - Jordan Pettitt/PA

British government lawyers could be stationed in Rwandan courts as part of a new treaty, expected to be signed this week, to help get deportation flights taking off.

The Telegraph understands the proposal has been discussed by UK and Rwandan negotiators as they move forward with finalising the text of the legal agreement.

It is hoped the treaty can address the concerns of the Supreme Court about the legal process in Rwanda. Last month, judges ruled that the deportation scheme was unlawful.

Allowing UK government lawyers to advise Rwandan judges, perhaps for specific asylum case hearings or for longer periods, could help ensure asylum appeals are correctly granted.

A senior Whitehall source familiar with developments said: “Discussions around beefing up their legal expertise, their legal capacity, have certainly been part of the talks.”

But Rwanda is understood to have made clear that it will not allow anything that looks like a “colonial court system”, stressing the country’s judicial independence.

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, could fly to Rwanda as early as Monday to sign the deal, with negotiations on treaty text ongoing over the weekend.

While the placement of UK lawyers in Rwandan courts has been discussed, it remains to be seen whether the proposal will make it into the final treaty wording.

The new legal treaty, which builds on an existing memorandum of understanding struck before the Supreme Court ruling, is one of two drives to bolster the Rwanda plan.

The other is to table new emergency legislation aimed at ensuring that asylum-seekers cannot contest deportation to Rwanda through the UK courts.

The legislation will declare Rwanda a “safe country”, essentially leaning on Parliament’s constitutional status in a way that makes it hard for the Supreme Court to find otherwise.

Rishi Sunak is continuing to consider how much further to go in the legislation, pondering calls to disapply the Human Rights Act or even allow ministers to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to asylum without leaving the treaty.

With pressure mounting from figures on the Right of the Conservative Party and Downing Street’s determination to come up with something legally watertight, that is proving more difficult than the treaty discussions.

A senior government source briefed on the situation said: “The provisions of the treaty are the uncontentious, easy part of this negotiation within government. It is the Bill that matters, and where the debate remains heated and unresolved.”

The new treaty is expected to be unveiled before the new legislation, although whether the gap between the two would be hours, days or weeks is unclear.

Mr Sunak talked to Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, about the treaty during his visit to the Cop28 UN climate change conference in Dubai last week.

The agreement will result in more financial contributions from the UK to Rwanda, although no final figure has been agreed, according to multiple government sources.

It is also expected to promise that anyone who is denied asylum in Rwanda after being sent there could be returned to the UK rather than sent back to their country of origin.

That would address one of the central concerns raised by the Supreme Court judges – that asylum-seekers with real claims could be wrongly sent home by Rwandan courts in what is known as “refoulement”. Mr Sunak has said he wants Rwanda flights taking off by April.