R ((AAA) Syria and Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department UKSC 42
The Government’s flagship policy of removing individual asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be decided under the Rwandan asylum system that was announced on 14th April 2022 has been found to be unlawful by a unanimous Supreme Court.
The Claimants were 10 individual asylum-seekers who entered the UK irregularly in small boats, together with one charity, Asylum Aid. There were also several interveners to the case, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (whose counsel team was led by Angus McCullough KC of 1 Crown Office Row). The Home Secretary (whose counsel included Neil Sheldon KC and Natasha Barnes of 1 Crown Office Row) was the Defendant.
In December 2022, the Divisional Court (Lewis LJ and Swift J) dismissed the general challenge to the policy, as discussed here. But in June, the Court of Appeal, by a 2-1 majority (Sir Geoffrey Vos MR and Underhill LJ) found that the policy was unlawful, as discussed here.
The Supreme Court (Lord Reed P, Lord Hodge DP, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs and Lord Sales), in a judgment jointly authored by Lord Reed and Lord Lloyd-Jones, has now held unanimously that the policy is unlawful on the basis that there are substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement (forcible return) to their country of origin if they are removed to Rwanda.
The Claimants in this case are 10 individual asylum-seekers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Sudan and Albania who entered the UK irregularly by crossing the English Channel in small boats, together with one charity, Asylum Aid.
Yesterday, the Divisional Court (Lewis LJ and Swift J) held that, in principle, the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda was consistent with the Refugee Convention and other legal obligations on the government, including those imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998. However, the Court also held that Home Secretary had failed to properly consider the circumstances of eight individual claimants to decide whether there was anything which meant that their asylum claim should be determined in the UK or they should not be relocated to Rwanda. Therefore, the decisions in those cases were set aside and referred back to the Home Secretary for her to consider afresh.
The Court’s judgment is detailed and addresses a number of issues. In this post, the focus will be on the general challenge made to removal to Rwanda in principle and what can be expected in the (likely) event that this aspect of the case is appealed further.
After almost five really enjoyable years as commissioning editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, I will be stepping back from that role and joining the Blog’s editorial board. I am delighted to announce that replacing me as joint commissioning editors will be Darragh Coffey and Jasper Gold.
The last few years have been very good ones for the Blog and it has been a great privilege to be the commissioning editor. I am hugely grateful to all the contributors, the round-up writers and, of course, the editorial board, for all of their hard work, help and support. I know that Darragh and Jasper will be excellent set of hands for this role. If you are interested in writing for the Blog, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
And so we come to the end of another year. The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to dominate the news, particularly with the very concerning surge of the Omicron variant this month. Many reading this will be separated from loved ones over Christmas. The year has also seen the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal at the end of August, the resumption of military rule in Myanmar and the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, this year recognised by the House of Commons and the US government (as well as many other bodies and organisations) as constituting a genocide. So, one could say that this year has rivalled last year for infamy.
But what, I hear you ask, about the law? As always, this year has been packed with fascinating and important legal developments — many of which you may have caught, but some of which may have passed under the radar. And so, please refresh your glass (or mug) and join me on another adventure as we review the 10 cases that defined 2021.
This time last year I wrote that 2019 had been “perhaps the most tumultuous period in British politics for decades”. Little did I know what 2020 would have in store.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss, suffering and anxiety across not only the UK but almost all of the globe. At the UK Human Rights Blog, we feel deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, carers and essential workers who have kept society going in what has been a deeply difficult year for so many of us.
In light of this, it is perhaps harder to summon the usual festive spirit that graces the approach of the holiday period — particularly as so many of us will be separated from our loved ones. And yet, perhaps it makes holding onto some spirit of joy all the more necessary.
Writing the article summing up the legal developments of the year is one of the highlights for me as commissioning editor of this blog. Let us embark together on a tour of what the courts had to say over the last 12 months. As ever, it has been a very interesting year.
The latest reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights lay bare the conditions in some British prisons.
Some of the language that is used to describe living conditions in the Chief Inspector’s report is shocking – including “appalling”, “squalid”, “intolerable”, “extremely squalid” and beset with “vermin and filth”.
The Chief Inspector’s view is that such conditions “should not feature in 21st century jails”. This conclusion was expressed prior to the further impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The conclusion of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is that the Government’s response and the deficiencies in the measures to mitigate the impact of this “have put at risk the right to family life of up to an estimated 17,000 children of mothers in prison”.
In the view of this author, the evidence indicates that in several respects the UK may well be in breach of vital protections for prisoners and their families under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This extended piece will examine these issues in detail.
As many others in the legal community have said, we at the UK Human Rights Blog are deeply saddened and appalled by the killing of George Floyd and the events in Minneapolis and elsewhere that exemplify systemic racism and violence against black people.
We endorse the statements made by the Bar Council and by 1 Crown Office Row which may be found here.
We will explore these issues in more depth in upcoming podcasts and articles.
In a complicated but very important decision, the High Court has ruled as a preliminary issue that the procedural protections under Article 6 which require a person to be given sufficient information about the allegations against them so they can give effective instructions to their lawyers will apply to a challenge to conditions imposed by order on a man suspected to have affiliations to Al-Qaeda.
This ‘extended look’ will explain the background to the issues in play and the way that a powerful ‘cocktail’ of rights under Articles 6 and 8 ECHR operates to try to ensure that a balance is struck between the rights of the individual and the collective interest in security.
Temporary Exclusion Orders
The claimant, QX, is a British national. He is married with three children who are all of toddler age. In October 2018, he and his wife were arrested in Istanbul.
On 26 November 2018 the Secretary of State successfully applied to the court for permission to impose a Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) on QX for two years on grounds of national security. This was granted by the court and on 9 January 2019 QX was returned from Istanbul to the UK under the terms of the TEO.
A TEO is an order which may be imposed under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (“the 2015 Act”) in order to temporarily disrupt the return and activities of a citizen suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activity abroad to manage the risk that they may pose to the public. It is an offence triable in either the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court with a maximum sentence of 5 years if a person does not comply with TEO conditions without reasonable excuse.
Unlike some of the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the prohibition on torture or inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 is absolute. There is no question of striking a balance between Article 3 and other considerations: the state simply may not act in a way which would breach this prohibition.
This means that this right can offer crucial protection to the sorts of people that some members of the public may not have instinctive sympathy towards, such as an immigrant with a serious criminal history who may otherwise struggle to resist deportation. Even if their case is otherwise unattractive, if it is shown that deporting them would expose them to inhuman or degrading treatment (or indeed constitute such treatment), their appeal must succeed.
In certain circumstances this will include a person with a serious medical condition who resists removal on the basis that the disparity between medical care in their country of origin compared to their host state would mean that removing them would constitute inhuman or degrading treatment. Such cases had previously been considered to succeed primarily for a person close to death, where removal would involve “in effect, pulling a man off his deathbed” (AM (Zimbabwe), para 14).
However, in AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 17, the Supreme Court has held that the proper approach to Article 3 was modified by the European Court of Human Rights in Paposhvili v Belgium Imm AR 867. The relevant test now is whether removal would give rise to a real risk of a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in the person’s state of health resulting in intense suffering, or to a substantial reduction in life expectancy. This does not require that death be imminent in the event of removal.
Last autumn I was privileged to spend six weeks in the United States as a scholar on the Pegasus Programme. This gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the similarities and contrasts between our legal systems, as well as the latest developments across the Atlantic.
In this piece I will tell you about what I learned about the US Supreme Court — its history, its role and what the Presidency of Donald Trump may mean for its future.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and acts as guarantor and arbiter of the Constitution. It has the power to establish (and extend) the content of constitutional rights and to strike down not only government acts, but also primary legislation incompatible with those rights.
In a historic decision, a panel of 11 justices of the Supreme Court has held that the decision of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament for 5 weeks from 9 September to 14 October 2019 was unlawfulon the basis that it constituted an unjustified frustration of the constitutional principles of Parliamentary sovereignty and accountability.
Giving the summary of the Court’s reasons for the decision, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, said that
when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper … Parliament has not been prorogued.
It follows, said Lady Hale, that the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords “can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible”.
The question of whether non-married partners and wider dependent relatives (e.g. grown-up children) of EEA nationals (known as ‘extended family members’) have a right of appeal against a decision by the Home Secretary to refuse them a residence card under the EEA Regulations has had a fraught recent history.
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