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.
In 2015, the Court of Appeal found that the fast-track procedure rules for appeals against the refusal of some types of asylum claim (the FTR) was “structurally unfair, unjust and ultra vires” (R (Detention Action) v First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)  EWCA Civ 840;  1 WLR 5341, known as DA6). The Court of Appeal quashed the FTR because this structural unfairness “created a risk that the applicants would have inadequate time to obtain advice, marshall their evidence and properly present their cases”, which “created an unacceptable risk of unfairness in a significant number of cases”.
Six years later, the question in R (on the application of TN (Vietnam)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department UKSC 41 was straightforward: where a decision had been taken under the FTR, should it also be quashed, or must the person who was subject to the decision demonstrate that the decision itself was unfair, rather than merely issuing from an unfair system?
The High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court all answered unequivocally that structural unfairness was not enough to quash an individual decision. Unfairness on the facts had to be found, or the decision would stand.
Background and Decisions Below
TN had, as the court acknowledged, a complicated procedural history, involving a number of applications for asylum, all of which (of those which had been determined at the time of trial) had been rejected. In hearings in those applications, TN had been represented by counsel. However, successive decisionmakers found TN’s claim not to be credible, and on 22 August 2014, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) rejected her appeal. It was this rejection, decided as it was by a tribunal following the procedural rules in the FTR, which TN sought to challenge in this case.
One reason TN’s evidence was not believed was that it was inconsistent, giving different dates at different times for her mother’s death, and changing the basis of her application for asylum without explaining fully the reasons for the changes. This raised a question plainly discussed, but in the end not legally consequential, of the approach taken to evidence of trafficking, given that trafficking victims frequently change their stories, partly because they will often not know (in terms) that this is what they are (see paragraphs -).
In a detailed judgment, Ouseley J rejected TN’s application, upholding the Tribunal’s decision. His judgment involved a detailed review of the history of TN’s case, after which he concluded that the Tribunal’s decision was not tainted by the structural unfairness of the FTR.
In the Court of Appeal, Singh LJ gave the leading judgment (with whom Sharp and Peter Jackson LLJ agreed), holding that the “fundamental reason” that the application had to fail was that there was “a conceptual distinction between holding that the procedural rules were ultra vires and the question whether the procedure in an individual appeal decision was unfair”.
The legal lens through which this fundamental conceptual distinction found expression was the principle of jurisdiction. Singh LJ considered two bases on which the FTT could fail to have jurisdiction, rejecting both. First, he held that the ultra vires nature of the FTR did not divest the FTT of jurisdiction in the “pure and narrow sense” of having “the legal authority to decide a question”. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction was not created by the FTR but rather by statute; the FTR was “merely a rule which regulates procedure and form”.
The second basis on which the Tribunal might have lost jurisdiction was in the “post-Anisminic understanding of jurisdiction … that a body has acted in a way which is unlawful, including (for this purpose) in a way which is procedurally unfair”. This too was rejected: the Tribunal had not acted in such a way; even though the FTR had created a structural risk that it might, that risk had not eventuated.
Singh LJ went on to set out four factors which the court should take into account when the fairness of an individual decision made under the FTR was challenged on the basis of unfairness. These were, paraphrasing: (1) a high degree of fairness is required in the context of asylum applications; (2) the FTR created an unacceptable risk of unfairness in a significant number of cases; (3) there is no presumption that the procedure in any one case was fair or unfair and what is necessary is a causal link between the risk of unfairness created by the FTR and what happened in a particular case; and (4) the finality of litigation is important, and as such delay is relevant, as are questions as to what steps were taken, and how quickly, to adduce evidence later relied on.
Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged a ‘fair but firm’ overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in the Commons on Thursday. The proposed measures aim to crack down on the criminal smuggling operations which helped 8,000 people cross the Channel by boat last year.
Under the Home Secretary’s proposals, asylum seekers would have their claims determined according to how they arrived in the UK. Those using ‘safe and legal resettlement routes’ directly from the countries they are fleeing, such as Syria and Iran, would obtain automatic permission to remain in the UK indefinitely. But anyone arriving with the aid of services offered by criminal smuggling gangs would only ever receive temporary permission to remain and would be regularly assessed for removal from the UK.
The Home Secretary declared that such a regime would deter prospective asylum seekers from using the EU countries in which they first arrive as springboards for reaching the UK, and encourage them to make claims there instead.
Last week, the Supreme Court considered an interesting interplay between two competing obligations of the state: on the one hand, the duty expeditiously to return a wrongfully removed or retained child to his home jurisdiction under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“the 1980 Hague Convention”); on the other, the principle that refugees should not be refouled, meaning expelled or returned to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution.
The parties to G (Appellant) v G (Respondent)  UKSC 9are the divorced parents of an eight-year-old girl (“G”). G was born in South Africa, and was habitually resident until G’s mother wrongfully removed her to England, in breach of G’s father’s custody rights. G’s mother fled South Africa when, after separating from G’s father and coming out as a lesbian, her family subjected her to death threats and violence. On her arrival in England, she applied for asylum and listed G as a dependant on her asylum application.
G’s father applied for an order under the 1980 Hague Convention for G’s return to South Africa. At first instance, Lieven J held the application should be stayed pending the determination of G’s mother’s asylum claim. The Court of Appeal considered that the High Court was not barred from determining the father’s application or making an order for expeditious return
On 1 October 2020, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, gave a speech at Temple Church to mark the opening of the legal year. He praised the “enduring success” of our legal system, our “healthy democracy”, and the “commitment to the Rule of Law” which steered the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Lord Chancellor delivered his speech two days after the controversial Internal Market Bill cleared its final hurdle in the House of Commons with ease, by 340 votes to 256. Earlier in September, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, told the House of Commons that the government’s plans would “break international law in a very specific and limited way.” On September 29, the Lord Chancellor voted against a proposed amendment to the Bill “requiring Ministers to respect the rule of law and uphold the independence of the Courts.” He was joined in doing so by the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, and the Solicitor General, Michael Ellis.
Serco is a private company that was contracted by the UK Home Office between 2012 and 2019 to provide accommodation to asylum seekers living in Glasgow. In July 2018, Serco began to implement the “move on protocol” – a new policy of changing locks and evicting asylum seekers without a court order if they were no longer eligible for asylum support. This put around 300 asylum seekers – who had no right to work or who had no right to homeless assistance – at risk of eviction and homelessness in Glasgow without any court process.
In response to this, the Stop Lock Change Evictions Coalition (“the Coalition”) was formed by various organisations, charities and lawyers who all united for one common purpose – to protect asylum seekers’ human rights, particularly in relation to housing.
Ilias v Hungary (Application no. 47287/15) was the first case in which the ECtHR considered a land border transit zone between two member states of the Council of Europe, where the host state, Hungary, was also a member of the EU and had applied the safe third country rule under the EU asylum regime. The Grand Chamber held that the applicants’ detention did not breach Article 5 (the right to liberty and security of the person).
The applicants, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed, were both Bangladeshi nationals who had left Bangladesh at different times and in differing circumstances. They met in Greece and then traveled together to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, then to Serbia, and then to Hungary. On 15 September 2015 they arrived in Hungary and entered the border transit zone at Röszke. They submitted asylum requests on the same day. Within several hours their requests were rejected as being inadmissible and they were ordered to be expelled from Hungary back to Serbia as a safe third country. The applicants then spent 23 days in the transit zone whilst they appealed this decision. On 8 October 2015, following a final decision of the Hungarian courts which rejected their applications for asylum and ordered the applicants’ expulsion, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed were escorted out of the transit zone and crossed the border back into Serbia.
It is undeniable that the Human Rights Act has had a significant impact on the work of the Supreme Court. Just under a quarter (14 of 61) of cases decided during the Court’s 2018-19 term featured a determination on at least one issue relating to the Act or the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK Supreme Court is soon to begin Hilary Term 2020, and whilst the docket of cases it is set to hear this term seems to largely steer clear of controversial human rights issues we can nonetheless be confident that 2020 will feature its usual share of big human rights cases. What follows is a short preview of some of the more interesting and controversial of those cases, all of which the Court is due to hand down at some point this year.
It is well established that, under Article 3 ECHR, the United Kingdom cannot deport an individual to a country where, there is a “real risk” of them being subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. This has been extended to include situations where the deportee would be placed in circumstances which might occasion a significant deterioration of health, including where they lack access to life-saving treatment.
The question in this case is whether Article 3 prohibits deportation in AM’s situation. He is an HIV-positive individual, whose condition for many years was being managed by anti-retroviral drugs in the UK. If deported to Zimbabwe, he would be very unlikely to have access to the same treatment. Although some medical options would be available to him, they would likely be significantly less effective for the management of his condition.
Previous authorities had restricted the application of Article 3 to ‘deathbed’ cases only, where the deportee would likely die quickly following their removal from the country.
Ali v Serco, Compass and the Secretary of State for the Home Department – read judgment.
Serco hit the headlines in July of last year when it introduced its controversial eviction practice of changing the locks of refused asylum seekers. In a judgment that refugee charities are describing as a worrying precedent, the Inner House of the Court of Session ruled that this practice is lawful.
Euan Lynch has also posted on this case, focussing on the question of whether Serco should be classified as a “public authority” under the HRA 1998 as the Outer House and the Inner House of the Court of Session reached different conclusions on this point.
The Inner House of the Court of Session has ruled that Serco Limited acted lawfully when evicting a failed asylum seeker from temporary accommodation in Glasgow without first obtaining a court order. This is the same conclusion that was drawn by the Outer House of the Court of Session in April. Daniel McKaveney has posted on the main points in this judgement here.
Whilst each judgment reached the same end result, one striking difference between the two is the reasoning that the Lord Ordinary and the Lord Justice Clerk deployed to answer the question of whether Serco should be classified as a “public authority” under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (“the HRA 1998”).
The persuasiveness and significance of each courts’ reasoning will be considered below.
TM (Kenya) concerned a 40 year old Kenyan woman who faced deportation after her applications for leave to remain and asylum were rejected by the Home Office. She had been detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in advance of proceedings to remove her from the country, during which time she had been uncooperative with staff. In light of her behaviour and in advance of her removal to Kenya, she was removed from free association with other detainees. Such detention was authorised by the Home Office Immigration Enforcement Manager at Yarl’s Wood, who was also the appointed “contract monitor” at the centre for the purposes of section 49 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
She sought judicial review of the decision to deprive her of free association. The initial application was refused. She appealed to the Court of Appeal where she advanced three grounds, including that her detention was not properly authorised.
The court found no conflict in the dual positions held by the manager at Yarl’s Wood. The Home Secretary had legitimately authorised her detention under the principles described in Carltona Limited v Commissioners of Works  2 All ER 560. In addition, there was no obligation to develop a formal policy concerning removal from free association, as Rule 40 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 was sufficiently clear to meet the needs of transparency. Continue reading →
R (On the application of Mofazzar Baradarn and Malik Baradarn0 v Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Sikh Council Hampshire 24 June 2014  EWCA Civ 854 – read judgment
David Manknell of 1 Crown Office Row represented the Home Office in these proceedings. He has had nothing to do with the writing of this post.
France is a country which observes its Convention obligations therefore it is not in breach of Article 3 or any other of the Convention’s provisions to return an asylum seeker thence under the Dublin Regulation, since that system provides that once a Member State has “taken charge” of an application for asylum (as France has in this case) it has exclusive responsibility for processing and determining the claim for asylum. The prohibition on religious clothing in public schools in France did not disclose a threat to the second appellant’s Convention rights.
The appellants were Iranian nationals (father and daughter) who challenged the Secretary of State’s decision on 5 December 2011 to refuse their asylum claims on safe third country grounds and to remove them to France. France had accepted responsibility for their asylum claims pursuant to the Dublin II Regulation. Before Hickinbottom J, they objected to their return to France because under French law they were banned from the wearing of the burka and the niqab in public. They alleged that this would breach their rights under articles 3, 8, 9, 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Their claims were dismissed by the judge in their entirety. Maurice Kay LJ gave them permission to appeal in relation only to articles 8, 9 and 14 by reference only to the French Law 2004-228 (“the 2004 law”) and in relation to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (“BCIA”). The 2004 law had not featured in argument before the judge. It was, however, common ground that the appeal was concerned with the 2004 law and not the 2010 law. The 2004 Law provides that “in public elementary schools, middle schools and secondary schools, the wearing of symbols or clothing by which the students conspicuously indicate their religious belief is prohibited”. Continue reading →
EM (Eritrea) and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 12 – read judgment
The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on the correct test for when an asylum seeker or refugee resists their return to another EU country (here Italy) in which they first sought or were granted asylum. The parties before the court all agreed that the test applied by the Court of Appeal, namely a requirement for a systemic deficiencies in the listed country’s asylum procedures and reception conditions was incorrect.
The Supreme Court agreed and held that even when the Dublin II Regulation was engaged, the correct test was that laid down in Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 439 – the removal of a person from a member state of the Council of Europe to another country was contrary to the ECHR “where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned… faces a real risk [in the country to which he or she is to be removed] of being subjected to [treatment contrary to article 3 of the Convention].”
Zoumbas (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) On appeal from the Inner House of the Court of Session,  CSIH 87  UKSC 74 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has clarified the principles to be applied when considering the welfare of children in deportation cases. The following summary is based on the Supreme Court’s Press Summary.
The appellant (Mr Z) and his wife (Mrs Z) are nationals of the Republic of Congo currently living in Glasgow with their three children, now aged 9, 5 and 2. Mr Z entered the UK illegally in May 2001 using a French passport that did not belong to him. He married Mrs Z in November 2003 after she had entered the previous year using a forged French passport and both their asylum claims had been refused. Their appeals were unsuccessful . In October 2005 Mrs Z and the couple’s daughter (A) were detained and removed to Congo. For the following ten months, Mr Z was treated as an absconder having failed to report to the authorities.
A Local Authority v SY  EWHC 3485 COP (12 November 2013] – read judgment
A judge in the Court of Protection has ruled that a man who had “exploited and took advantage” of a young woman for the purpose of seeking to bolster his immigration appeal had engaged in an invalid marriage ceremony. The man, said Keehan J, had
“deliberately targeted” the respondent because of her learning difficulties and her vulnerability.
The courts would not tolerate such “gross exploitation.”
This was an application by a local authority in the Court of Protection in respect of the capacity of the respondent, SY, to litigate and to make decisions in relation to her life. Continue reading →
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