UK Supreme Court releases landmark judgment declaring the Rwanda Policy Unlawful

Judgment has been released by the Supreme Court in the case of R (on the application of AAA, HTN, RM, AS, SAA, ASM and others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Secretary of State’s appeal, upholding the Court of Appeal’s decision that the policy was unlawful.

Published on 15 November 2023
Written by Sam Williamson
Sam Williamson

What was the case about?

The appeal concerned the UK government’s policy of removing some asylum seekers to Rwanda where their asylum claims would be decided. This ‘Rwanda Policy’ was seen as a key plank of the government’s commitment to curb attempts to enter the UK by small boat crossings.

The Supreme Court heard over 13 hours of evidence in the case, which was argued in October. Submissions focused on whether those removed to Rwanda were at risk of refoulement – a forced return of asylum seekers to their country of origin, forbidden under various international treaties.

What did the Supreme Court decide?

The Supreme Court decided unanimously to reject the Secretary of State’s appeal, upholding the Court of Appeal’s decision that the policy was unlawful.

Lord Reed, the Supreme Court President, emphasised the Court’s role purely in deciding questions of the legality of the policy, and not its political expediency.

He also noted that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was not the only relevant authority on the question of refoulement. It was widely thought before her resignation that former Home Secretary Suella Braverman would have called for the UK to leave the ECHR if her appeal were rejected.

The Court gave significant weight to the evidence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), concerning examples of refoulement in Rwanda since the UK’s memorandum of understanding with the country, as well as Rwanda’s poor human rights record more generally. It concluded there was a genuine risk of refoulement if asylum seekers were removed to Rwanda.

Which barristers were involved?

Raza Husain KC made the leading appearance for all claimant groups, who were also represented by Phillippa Kaufmann KC, Sonali Naik KC and Richard Drabble KC. Raza Husain KC is a Star Individual in Chambers UK Bar’s Immigration table, also possessing Band One rankings in Administrative & Public Law and Civil Liberties & Human Rights. Richard Drabble KC also made an oral submission on the claimants’ behalf.

Angus McCullough KC and Laura Dubinsky KC presented the evidence of the UNHCR, which was found to be pivotal to the case.

Husain, McCullough and Naik have been nominated in the Chambers UK Bar Awards 2023.

Sir James Eadie KC and Lord Pannick KC made oral submissions on behalf of the Home Secretary.

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