High Court refuses to block first flight to Rwanda

In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Swift said there was a ‘material public interest’ in the Home Secretary being able to carry out her policies.

10 June 2022

The first flight as part of the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda can go ahead on Tuesday, a High Court judge has ruled.

Several people due to be given a one-way ticket to the east African nation as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s bid to curb Channel crossings, as well as campaign groups and a union, had asked judges to block their upcoming deportation flight.

Up to 130 people had been notified they could be removed and on Friday, the court in London heard 31 people were due on the first flight, with the Home Office planning to schedule more this year.

The first claim against the policy was brought by lawyers on behalf of some asylum seekers alongside the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 80% of Border Force staff, as well as groups Care4Calais and Detention Action – who are challenging the policy on behalf of everyone affected.

However, Mr Justice Swift ruled against granting a temporary block to the policy until a full hearing next month, adding: “I do not consider that the balance of convivence favours the grant of the generic relief.”

Shortly after his ruling at the High Court, the judge granted the claimants permission to appeal, suggesting Court of Appeal judges would hear the case on Monday.

During Friday’s proceedings, it emerged the Home Office had already cancelled removal directions for three people set to be on the first flight and that a further two will also have them cancelled.

But Mr Justice Swift also denied an injunction to the two remaining claimants, one who had left Syria and the other Iraq, allowing their deportation.

“I accept that the fact of removal to Rwanda will be onerous,” he said.

The judge added: “I do not consider there is any evidence for the duration of the interim period that there will be ill-treatment, refoulement, or anything that gives rise to Article 3 treatment.”

Mr Justice Swift said that part of the claimants’ case focused on “the contention that the Secretary of State’s decision to treat Rwanda as a safe country is either irrational or based on insufficient investigation”.

In his ruling, the judge said this ground, with other parts of the case, would be heard with evidence at the full judicial review.

“Drawing these materials together, I accept that the claimants have made good their submission that there were trialable issues,” he said.

The judge said the case would be heard over two days before the end of July, noting that the claim was “not conspicuously strong”.

Priti Patel visit to Rwanda
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation, Vincent Biruta (Flora Thompson/PA)

During the hearing, lawyers for the Home Office had argued there was a “strong public interest in permitting these removals to proceed as scheduled” and a “clear public interest in deterring the making of dangerous journeys and the activities of criminal smugglers”.

Mr Justice Swift accepted there was a “material public interest” in the Home Secretary being able to carry out her policies.

Earlier, Raza Husain QC, for the claimants, had told the court the “procedure is simply unsafe” and called for an evidence-based assessment for the policy, “not an aspirational basis, or hopes”.

He added: “This is a precipitate flight, on the Secretary of State’s own case.”

The barrister later said there was a risk of mass claims against the Government if the policy is ultimately found to be unlawful at the full judicial review next month, adding the people affected are “largely traumatised”.

He also said that the agreement between the two countries, known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), was “unenforceable”.

“Nothing monitors it, there’s no evidence of structural change. The risks are just too high,” he added.

However, Mr Justice Swift rejected this argument about the MoU and other documents that make up the policy.

He said: “They are not legally binding but they are formal documents about arrangements for transfer and how they will be put into practice.”

He continued: “It is unlikely that persons transferred would be refused access to the system of asylum. After all, it is the very purpose of the MoU (for asylum claims to be processed) in Rwanda.”

Platinum Jubilee
Home Secretary Priti Patel greeted the judge’s ruling (Daniel Leal/PA)

Mr Husain also told the court that assertions by the Home Office that UN refugee agency the UNHCR had given the plans the “green light” was a “false claim”.

Laura Dubinsky QC, for UNHCR, which intervened in the High Court claim, said there had been “inaccuracies” in the way the agency’s views had been described by the Home Office.

She told the court that the agency is concerned about the risk of “serious, irreparable harm” caused to refugees sent to Rwanda, adding the body “in no way endorses the UK-Rwandan arrangement”.

Following the ruling, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel welcomed the decision.

Ms Patel said: “I welcome the court’s decision in our favour, and will now continue to deliver on progressing our world-leading migration partnership.

“People will continue to try and prevent their relocation through legal challenges and last-minute claims, but we will not be deterred in breaking the deadly people smuggling trade and ultimately saving lives.”

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