JUSTICE issues statement on the Home Office attempts to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda and condemns the Prime Minister’s attacks on lawyers

JUSTICE is relieved that the flight originally due to take 37 asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda did not depart last night following a number of legal challenges on modern slavery and human rights grounds. We welcome the interim measures granted by the European Court of Human Rights, which are only granted on an exceptional basis, when applicants would otherwise face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm.

The policy of transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda risks denying individuals effective access to justice, undermining the rule of law, and fails to protect those in desperate need of asylum. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed serious concerns regarding the lack of access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status in Rwanda with consequent risks of refoulement. The Rwandan asylum system lacks some of the basic safeguards required to secure effective access to justice, including: lack of access to legal representation, no  independent appeal route, no provision of reasons for negative decisions rendering appeal rights impossible to exercise in practice, significant delays in decision making, insufficient access to interpreters, and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ persons.[1] We are deeply concerned that this policy manifestly contravenes the UK’s domestic and international human rights obligations, is unworkable and racist, and stands against the very concept of human dignity.  

Furthermore, compliance with the rule of law requires states to act in accordance with the law. This includes both national and international law. We are concerned that in the UNHCR’s view, the transfer of some asylum seekers to Rwanda would breach the 1951 Convention on Relating to the Status of Refugees, which the UK has ratified.

In addition, we are appalled by the verbal attacks made yesterday by the Prime Minister against lawyers involved in legal challenges to prevent removals. It is the role of lawyers to advise and expertly represent their clients, ensuring that laws passed by Parliament are properly upheld. As the Supreme Court said yesterday, these lawyers were “performing their proper function” to ensure that “their clients are not subjected to unlawful treatment at the hands of the Government”.[2] To imply that bringing legitimate challenges against removals is equivalent to “aiding and abetting criminals” is not only untrue but has potentially severely damaging consequences. The ability to legitimately challenge Government actions without fear of reprisals is fundamental to the functioning of a democracy governed by the rule of law.

Fiona Rutherford, Chief Executive of JUSTICE said

The practice of seeking to apply and work within the laws created by our sovereign parliament is neither ‘lefty’ nor ‘activist’. It is a critical role to ensure that everyone, particularly at moments of crisis, has the legal assistance they need to enforce their rights in accordance with the rule of law. Less than a year ago, many lawyers were described by the Government as ‘key workers’. No lawyer deserves to be compared with the despicable criminal gangs involved in human trafficking. The interim injunctions were granted to prevent removal until the Courts have determined the legality of the policy. We urge all politicians to allow these important legal proceedings to take their course and refrain from rhetoric which undermines the rule of law and all those who seek to uphold it.”

Please direct queries to Stephanie Needleman, Legal Director.

Download the press release here.

[1] https://www.unhcr.org/uk/62a317d34.pdf

[2] https://www.supremecourt.uk/news/rwanda-permission-to-appeal-application-refused.html