Safety of Rwanda Bill corrodes the rule of law and access to justice

Ahead of the bill's second reading in the House of Lords today, we outline our profound concerns with the proposals.
A coloured map of Rwanda.
© Image: Omer Sukrugoksu

We have followed the UK government’s plans and policies to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda throughout parliament and the courts.

We continue to be gravely concerned about the impact the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will have on the rule of law and access to justice.

What’s happened so far?

The Illegal Migration Act passed through parliament last year and became law in July 2023.

Among other provisions, the act allows the removal of those who enter the UK via unauthorised routes to their home country, or a ‘safe’ third country, such as Rwanda.

The Rwandan government has agreed to receive asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible in the UK.

However, in November 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that the plan is unlawful, based on evidence that Rwanda is not a safe country given the high risk that asylum seekers could be subject to persecution and ill-treatment.

Following the ruling, the UK government introduced a treaty with Rwanda outlining the terms of the asylum partnership. This replaced a previous memorandum of understanding, which was not legally binding.

The government introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill to support implementation of the treaty and legislate around the Supreme Court ruling, which is being debated in the House of Lords on 29 January.

“Parliament cannot use law to change fact”

As the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has progressed through parliament and the courts, we have been unequivocal in our concerns about how these plans damage the rule of law.

Our chief executive, Ian Jeffery said that: “The bill creates a statutory obligation that every decision maker, including the courts, must treat Rwanda as a safe country”.

Referring to the evidence-based finding of the Supreme Court, he added: “while parliament has the right to respond to a court judgment by passing legislation to change a point of domestic law, it cannot use law to change fact.

“The measures taken in this bill would effectively place government above the law and demonstrate a profound lack of respect for the rule of law and balance of powers”.

We are also concerned that the bill is incompatible with our international obligations, including those under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and will result in more cases being decided by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This will highlight our non-compliance to fellow member states, increase barriers to access to justice, and move cases away from our domestic courts.

Additionally, we have briefed parliamentarians on the ways the bill would restrict human rights claims made by individuals appealing their removal.

This would leave some individuals exposed to human rights abuses, with little legal oversight.

Ultimately, we are troubled that this bill corrodes the rule of law and access to justice

What happens next?

The bill has its second reading in the House of Lords today, before progressing to committee stage where peers will scrutinise the bill line by line.

Amendments are expected to be made to the bill, which will set up a potential clash with the House of Commons before the bill can achieve royal assent.

We are working closely with politicians from all parties, and will be closely following the bill’s progress.

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