The Supreme Court has declared the UK government's 'Illegal Migration Act - Rwanda Scheme,' involving the relocation of asylum seekers, unlawful.

Rwanda Policy Versus The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court held that the UK government's 'Illegal Migration Act - Rwanda Policy', which involved the relocation of asylum seekers, was unlawful.


The proposed governmental policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, known as ‘The Rwanda Policy’ in its current format has been held to be unlawful by The Supreme Court. This judgement upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision and the opinion of many lawyers, legal commentators and those working with refugees and asylum seekers.


The Judgement

All five judges presiding in The Supreme Court held that The Rwanda Scheme is unlawful, and it went against the principle of non-refoulement instruments. The court held that a person seeking asylum in Rwanda was at risk of being returned to their country of origin, which put them at risk of harm. The principle of refoulment is established both in international and UK law. Former Supreme Court judge, Lord Jonathan Sumption told the BBC that the Prime Minister's plan was "profoundly discreditable", and would be a breach of the government's international law obligations (BBC, 2023).

This judgement cemented the decision from the Court of Appeal that there are ‘real risks of refoulement’ from Rwanda and fears that asylum claims would not be properly conducted as a result. This would indicate that Rwanda is not a safe third country to which asylum seekers can be sent in order to pursue their asylum claims as set out in the Immigration Act 1971 paragraph 345B. This was evidenced by the United Nations’s Refugee Agency, which showed that Rwanda had not upheld a similar agreement with Israel previously, adding credence to the fears that many had of The Rwanda Proposal.

The Impacts

While the judgement made it clear that The Supreme Court was not stepping in to the political debate surrounding the policy, it is clear that this judgement does ‘undermine one of the Prime Minister’s key pledges: to “stop the boats”. This decision could lead to increased pressure on the government to relax policies directed at asylum seekers, as well as increasing criticism of the government on any policies drawn up in the future.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, stated “The plan goes against who we are as a country that stands up for those less fortunate than us and for the values of compassion, fairness and humanity. The government should be focusing on creating a functioning asylum system that allows people who seek safety in the UK a fair hearing on our soil and provides safe routes, so they don’t have to take dangerous journeys” (The Guardian, 2023). Statements such as these indicate the real concerns that many have towards The Rwanda Policy.


The Government's Reaction And Likely Steps

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government remain undeterred by the judgement and any other criticisms of the policy, stating that he will continue to uphold his pledge to ‘stop the boats’. The Prime Minister has explained that he is now willing to use an emergency bill to confirm that Rwanda is a safe third country, despite the clear disapproval of the Court of Appeal and The Supreme Court. Although lacking in detail of what this would entail, Sunak has also proposed a revised treaty with Rwanda.

The Institute for Government has estimated what these provisions could contain, such as making the agreement more legally binding between the two governments. This could perhaps be to circumvent the problem of the risk of refoulement that was noted by the courts. They have suggested however, that this may not be enough and that there would need to be adequate sanctions in order to ensure the safety of asylum seekers who are sent to Rwanda and that the agreement will remain upheld. The Supreme Court commented that these new provisions “may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring” (Institute For Government, 2023). This could indicate that there are further aggressive measures for asylum seekers on the horizon, and that the government is particularly set on implementing this legislation, despite its clear flaws.

It is also likely that because the policy of removing asylum seekers to a third country to have their claims processed was not itself criticised by The Supreme Court, the government will continue with such a proposal and look to sign treaties with countries that have a better record than Rwanda on the refoulment point.   


To Conclude

Although The Rwanda Scheme has now been ruled unlawful by The Supreme Court, it is difficult to determine what the government’s next move will be in their efforts to ‘stop the boats’. This could cause significant repercussions for asylum seekers who wish to relocate to the UK; and added pressure through an already mentally and physically draining process. The flagrant disregard of the non-refoulement conventions by the UK government with The Rwanda Scheme, combined with the disregard for other ECHR articles in the Illegal Migration Act 2023, highlights the legislative ideas that the UK’s current government is seeking to enact are unlawful, xenophobic and damaging to asylum seekers.



How can Paragon Law help?

At Paragon Law, our asylum solicitors and lawyers have a track record of supporting individuals to claim asylum in the UK. If you require assistance with your right-to-work status as an asylum seeker or require support to claim asylum in the UK then please contact us to arrange a consultation with an expert immigration lawyer.

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