Rwanda asylum scheme: UK Home Office makes legal bid to keep documents secret

Government department wants about 10 extracts from two Rwanda papers to remain confidential

The Royal Courts of Justice, the High Court, in London. The UK is facing challenges against its proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. AFP
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The UK High Court has been told that the Home Office wants to keep its plans to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda secret.

The Home Office is facing challenges from several asylum seekers, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), and charities Care4Calais, Detention Action and Asylum Aid against proposals to impose one-way flights to the east African country on applicants who fail to win their asylum cases.

With a main hearing on the challenge scheduled for September, the Home Office has tried to keep about 10 extracts from two documents secret, including from the lawyers for the asylum seekers, and charities and the union.

On Tuesday, the court heard that the Home Office asked for someone in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) with knowledge of the region to review their Country Policy and Information Note for Rwanda – a summary of conditions there.

In an email and comments added to the draft, the Home Office claims public interest immunity on parts of the independent reviewer’s response, preventing them from being shared.

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Neil Sheldon QC, for the department, told the court that there would be a “potential of very significant harm” to international relations and national security issues if the extracts were disclosed.

In written submissions, Mr Sheldon said that the redacted material “comprises expressions of opinion, of a general nature”.

“The commentary it contains amounts to nothing more or less than the un-referenced opinion of this particular individual,” he said.

However, Christopher Knight, representing eight individuals, PCS, Detention Action and Care4Calais, opposed the bid, along with other claimants and three media organisations.

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In written submissions, the barrister said that the Home Office has already provided “a significant array of evidence addressing the critical views advanced by the government about the government of Rwanda”.

Mr Knight said it was important for the court to decide whether the redactions “go materially beyond or differ from the public criticisms made” about the Rwandan government by the UK.

In court, the barrister quoted from one of the documents written by the unnamed Foreign Office official, where they said in an unredacted comment that torture and “even killings” are accepted in Rwanda.

The claim for public interest immunity was supported by Minister of State at the Foreign Office Graham Stuart.

In written evidence, Mr Stuart said that disclosing the full documents would cause serious harm “primarily but not exclusively” to the UK’s relationship with the Rwandan government.

He added that sharing the contents of the extracts would also harm national security “in light of Rwanda’s status as a valuable strategic partner to the United Kingdom across a range of issues including regional security, the maintenance of a strong coalition in support of Ukraine and combating the activities of criminal gangs engaged in illegal immigration”.

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However, in written submissions, Mr Knight said it was “implausible” for the redactions to contain anything that could harm national security related to supporting Ukraine.

Lord Justice Lewis said he hoped to give a judgment on the Home Office’s bid by Wednesday afternoon.

At a hearing in July, the judge said that the main hearing will go ahead from September 5 for five days, while a second hearing in the claim brought by Asylum Aid will take place in October.

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Updated: August 17, 2022, 5:00 AM