Tel: 0203 319 3643

Fax: 0208 894 5300

Emergency: 0750 625 5550

New Rwanda treaty – but Society remains concerned

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(5 December 2023)

The Law Society has questioned how a new UK-Rwanda signed today overcomes a ruling made by the Supreme Court that found the government’s plan for sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to be unlawful.

Last month, the UK’s highest court upheld the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that there were ‘substantial grounds’ for believing deportees would face a ‘real risk’ of ill-treatment contrary to their human rights.

Today, home secretary James Cleverly signed a joint treaty with his counterpart, foreign minister Dr Vincent Biruta, ‘strengthening the UK and Rwanda’s Migration and Economic Development Partnership and directly addressing the concerns of the Supreme Court’, the Home Office said.

‘The landmark treaty is binding in international law and ensures that people relocated to Rwanda under the partnership are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened – an act known as refoulement,’ it said.

However, the Law Society said it remained unclear how the new treaty overcomes the Supreme Court ruling.

Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘While parliament has the right to respond to a court judgment by passing legislation to change a point of domestic law, the Supreme Court’s finding in this case was on a point of fact, based on a core and well-established principle of international law.

‘That fact is that Rwanda is not considered a safe country given the high risk of refoulement of asylum seekers. Neither a treaty nor domestic legislation can overnight provide adequate means of safeguarding the rights of people removed to Rwanda.

‘We will be carefully considering the terms of the treaty and legislation when they are available. For now, the UK government must at a minimum make sure that ample opportunity is given to parliament to properly scrutinise both.’

The treaty, published this afternoon, contains a section on legal assistance.

The treaty says relocated individuals ‘shall be permitted to seek legal advice or other counsel, at all stages of the asylum application process from a legal professional member of the Rwanda Bar Association, qualified to advise and represent them in matters of asylum or humanitarian protection. This shall be provided to the relocated individual free of charge. A person providing a relocated individual with legal assistance or legal advice shall have unfettered access to the relocated individual, including in their accommodation’.

Rwanda must take ‘all reasonable steps to ensure that there is sufficient capacity of appropriately trained legal advisers available to provide free legal assistance’.

Relocated individuals wishing to appeal a decision must also be provided with free legal assistance and representation from a member of the Rwanda Bar Association qualified to advise and represent in asylum or humanitarian protection matters.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)