The Weekly Round-up: Rwanda, Insulate Britain and automated decision-making
25 April 2022
The government has come in for a certain amount of criticism about its deal to allow migrants who arrive in the UK illegally to be sent to Rwanda for assessment of their asylum applications.
Priti Patel’s Rwanda asylum plan has been challenged in Parliament by Theresa May, who questions its ‘legality, practicality, and efficacy’, as well as its potential for increasing the trafficking of women and children. The legality of the scheme, which proposes to send those with rejected UK asylum claims to Rwanda, has been defended by Patel, who points to immigration rules introduced last year. However, the backlash has now infiltrated the Home Office itself, with staff threatening to go on strike over concerns of illegality and racism. This prompted the permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, to reassure the civil service that implementing it would not be ‘racist or illegal’. Rycroft himself, however, doubts whether the plan would provide taxpayer value for money, and has refused to sign it off.
Boris Johnson will be investigated over allegations that he misled Parliament over ‘partygate’. Last week, fines were charged against Johnson, his wife, and Rishi Sunak for breaking Covid laws during a birthday celebration at Downing Street. As the prime minister previously insisted to MPs that no laws were broken, the Privileges Committee will investigate to determine whether they believe this was deliberately misleading, and if so recommend a sanction.
In other news:
- The Guardian reported on Thursday that a record number of violations of pollution laws have been caused by agriculture since legislation was introduced 2018. The Environment Agency has yet to issue any fines or prosecute anyone under the legislation.
- In an open letter to the UK judiciary, Insulate Britain declared the courts a site of ‘civil resistance’ on Saturday and have threatened to be disruptive in their upcoming hearings after they glued their hands and feet to the road outside Parliament.
- Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors stated on Thursday that the families of victims of serial killer Stephen Port, who raped and killed four young men (as well as raping three others) remained sceptical of police reforms to how ‘unexplained deaths’ are reported. A coroner’s report on the deaths in January identified investigative failings and a ‘lack of professional curiosity.’
- The ‘Colston Four’ case, the acquittal of the Bristol protesters who toppled the Edward Colston statue in 2020, is being referred up to the Court of Appeal. This will not reverse the non-guilty verdict, but will clarify a point of law as to whether defendants can use a human rights defence in a criminal damage case.
- Solicitor-advocates have been called upon by the Legal Aid Agency in an attempt to reduce the impact of the work-to-rule action by criminal barristers. The executive agency of the Ministry of Justice hope it will stop crown court cases being adjourned. Several solicitors, however, have publicly declared they will not help, showing solidarity for the criminal bar’s actions.
- The Supreme Court will issue its ruling next week on whether the voter ID pilot schemes implemented in the 2019 elections were lawful. The claim was dismissed in the High Court and Court of Appeal(commentary by Jake Richards here), and centres on whether the decision to require voter ID was ultra vires in relation to section 10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000.
In the courts:
- On the 21st April in Vardy v News Group Newspapers Lid  EWHC 946 (QB), the High Court handed down a judgment following a pre-trial review in Rebekah Vardy’s libel claim against Coleen Rooney. The claim centres on a defamatory social media post by Mrs Rooney about Mrs Vardy. Mrs Rooney has pleaded defences of truth and public interest, which are contested. The judgment granted Mrs Rooney’s application for disclosure from the respondent (News Group Newspapers), as well as Mrs Vardy’s permission for retrospective relief from sanctions to serve various witness summaries. The trial is listed for a hearing beginning on 9th May 2022.
- On the 14th April, the Court of Appeal in Zulfiqar v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 492 dismissed an appeal that the question of citizenship regarding foreign criminal status should be determined at the time of conviction. The appellant was a dual British and Pakistani national at the time of his conviction, but renounced his British citizenship while in prison. He appealed against the Home Secretary’s decision that he fell within the ‘automatic deportation’ provisions applying to foreign criminals under section 32(5) UK Borders Act 2007. The Court ruled that the Home Secretary’s decision was correct, and that foreign criminal status is to be determined at the date of the decision to make a deportation order, not of conviction.
On the UKHRB:
- On Law Pod UK, Rosalind English talks to Ariane Adam and Tatiana Kazim of the Public Law Project about automated decision making in the public sector, the problems of transparency and automation bias where these decisions affect people’s rights.
This weekly report has been co-authored by William Craig Cohen and Matthew Johnson. William is handing the baton over to Matthew and his team for the regular weekly round-ups.