On 13 and 14 October we were in court. Here’s what happened.
Our challenge to the Home Office’s Rwanda policy was heard in the High Court on 13 and 14 October. This followed earlier hearings on 5-9 September of the cases brought by Care4Calais, Detention Action, the PCSU and a number of individuals, and a hearing on 12 October of a case focused on the data sharing parts of the Rwanda agreement.
At the hearing, our barristers presented the evidence and legal arguments to support our case that the Home Office has adopted a procedure for sending people to Rwanda which is unlawful and unfair. Under the procedure, asylum seekers, newly arrived following an often traumatic journey, are given just 7 (if in detention) or 14 days to understand what is happening to them, access legal advice, and put forward evidence and arguments as to why they should not be sent to Rwanda. If a decision is then made to send them to Rwanda, they have just 5 working days to get to court to stop their removal.
The Home Office argues that 7 – or 14 - days is enough time in ‘straightforward’ cases to deal with all of these things, and that extensions can be requested if more time is needed in a particular case. Our case is that 7 or 14 days is never enough to understand what’s happening, get access to legal advice, and deal with all the complex issues arising.
And what’s more, the Home Office doesn’t tell asylum seekers that they can ask for more time if they need it – it’s not stated in the ‘Notice of Intent’ or even in their published guidance to their own caseworkers. The evidence and analysis we presented to the court about the cases that went through the procedure earlier in the summer, showed that in some cases the Home Office didn’t even respond to a request for an extension of time. When it did grant an extension it was often for a short period only which is still not enough time for a fair process. There are even cases where, despite granting an extension, the Home Office went ahead and decided to send the person to Rwanda anyway, before the new deadline.
Before the hearing, the Home Office had accepted that asylum seekers had to be told the gist of the decisions that it was considering taking and to have a fair opportunity to make representations against those decisions. It accepted that this included being able to make representations about the reasons why they should not be sent to Rwanda – including both on the Home Office’s general assessment that Rwanda is a safe country, and any reasons why it would not be safe for them individually.
On the second day of our hearing, the Home Office changed its case – it now says that asylum seekers don’t need to be given the opportunity to make representations on the general assessment that Rwanda is a safe country, only on whether there is anything in their individual circumstances which means it is not safe for them.
Because of this late change in the Home Office case, the court allowed our legal team – and the lawyers in the linked cases heard in September - to put in further written arguments which had to be submitted [today]. We argue that this change in the Home Office case is legally flawed– in particular because Rwanda is not on any list of safe countries endorsed by Parliament so the Home Office has to assess safety every time it makes a decision to send someone to Rwanda. But in any case, 7 – or 14 - days is still not enough.
Our legal team have continued to work hard and we still need to raise more money to be able to pay them.
Now we await the court’s judgment on all of the issues raised in our case and the linked claims brought by Care4Calais, Detention Action and others. The court didn’t say exactly when it would give its judgment but we expect it will be handed down before the Christmas break. In the meantime, we continue to hear of asylum seekers, living in hotels in our communities, being sent written notices that they are being considered for removal to Rwanda. They have just 14 days to understand the notice (which we understand is being sent by post, in English, and not explained to them by anyone from the Home Office) -get access to legal advice and respond. We remain very concerned that if the court’s judgment goes against us, there is a real risk of people being put on a plane to Rwanda without a fair procedure being followed and without having a fair chance to properly make their case in court.
Donations to the legal challenge crowdfunder can be made here.