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In the News

Rwanda Plan Deemed Illegal by Supreme Court

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

15th December 2023

The brainchild of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman in an attempt to deal with illegal immigrants entering our shores, first formulated in April 2022, the Rwanda plan would ensure that asylum seekers are sent to Rwanda for processing. Successful claimants would then be able to remain, whilst others faced deportation. This however attracted much criticism from Human Rights campaigners as they saw that Rwanda, with a poor human rights record and concerns on how they process asylum seekers, could not be considered a safe country for refugees, who would just be returned to their home nation from which they initially fled. For as recent as 2021, even the British government chastised Rwanda for such things as enforced disappearances and torture

This led to court challenges to this plan, most recently at the Supreme Court who unanimously decided that asylum seekers could face harm if being deported to Rwanda and therefore agreeing with the previous Court of Appeal decision, found the policy illegal. They did this by comparing the plan to the European Convention on Human Rights and other international treaties which attempt to provide safeguards to asylum seekers and found that this plan breached them and deemed Rwanda an unsafe country for them. Shortly after the judgment, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered a hard-line response, stating that emergency legislation to deem Rwanda a safe country to send asylum seekers would be enacted quickly. This would ensure in law that those who are relocated from the UK would be protected from removal from Rwanda. Alongside this would also be a Treaty to work with Rwanda to deliver their plan. Legislation will also include blocks on the domestic courts trying to halt flights to Rwanda with asylum seekers as has occurred previously. This legislation would of course have to pass through both the House of Commons and House of Lords and could be problematic however as it seems to try and bypass the Supreme Court judgment and thus the rule of law. This is despite the Conservatives believing they have the support of the public in this matter in order to deliver on their plan to stop illegal asylum seekers entering the country. To do this however may mean withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights becomes necessary, something which Sunak has not ruled out, stating “I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.”, as it is hoped that the first of these will take off in Spring 2024. Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights could however signify the end of important safeguards, such as those which underpin the Good Friday agreement with Ireland ensuring peace ensues.

The other option as put forward by Suella Braverman was to insert a “notwithstanding” clause into the legislation, so that notwithstanding whatever the European Convention on Human Rights says, the government can ignore those obligations. Many in the legal world however have stated that this is impractical and makes a mockery of the legal system.

Comprehension Questions

1. What is the Rwanda plan, and why did it attract criticism from Human Rights campaigners?

2. How did the Supreme Court respond to the Rwanda plan, and on what grounds did they find the policy illegal?

3. Explain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's response to the Supreme Court's decision, including the proposed emergency legislation.

4. According to the text, what potential challenges might arise in implementing the emergency legislation, and what is the alternative option proposed by Suella Braverman?

5. Discuss the potential consequences of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, and how it may impact agreements such as the Good Friday agreement with Ireland.

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

Gemma is an experienced Law teacher and examiner.

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