Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Rwanda: Civil servants challenge new law in court

  • By Dominic Cassiani
  • Home and Law Correspondent

image caption, The Rwanda project is designed as a barrier to small boat crossings

A union for senior civil servants has launched an unprecedented legal challenge to ministers' Rwanda plan.

The FDA said it was intervening because it feared the plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda could force officials to break the law.

Under a new law, ministers can bypass the European Court of Human Rights and direct authorities to regulate flights.

The union wants the High Court to rule on whether the clause puts civil servants in a difficult legal position.

The FDA fears that civil servants could be caught between judges and ministers, and that a direction to violate international law would put them at odds with the Civil Service Code.

The government said advice from its head of privacy and ethics, Darren Tierney, would not breach the code.

In a letter It has been published on the website of the government. Mr Tierney wrote: “In implementing the decision, civil servants will act in accordance with the Civil Service Code, which includes the duty not to be disappointed in the implementation of policies once decisions have been made.

“They shall act in accordance with the Act, which is an Act enacted by Parliament under which the Minister's specifically authorized and affirmed discretion shall be exercised.”

The Rwanda project is a key part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's pledge to prevent dangerous dinghy crossings of the English Channel.

The Protection of Rwandan law Last November, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling that the country was not a safe place to send genuine refugees.

In practice, ministers are seen ordering key civil service chiefs to prepare and dispatch planes, even if the judges say the case is not settled.

The First Division Association (FDA), which represents those Whitehall leaders, said members feared they could be ordered to break both international law and the Civil Service Code.

Dave Penman, the FDA's general secretary, said its members were not taking a political view on whether the Rwanda plan was right or wrong – but they wanted assurances about whether the move put them at odds with ministers and the law.

“This [measure] It's down to an accident or bad draft,” he said.

“It was a political choice by the government, made not in the interest of the country but to avoid upsetting both of the warring factions within its own party.”

“It's irresponsible. Civil servants, regardless of their political beliefs, know they have to support the government of the day and implement policy, but they also know they have a legal duty to abide by the Civil Service Code.

“Faced with a government willing to act in this cowardly, reckless way, it is left to the FDA to protect our members and the integrity of the civil service.”

The FDA will now ask the high court to prioritize its case — but there's no guarantee the justices will do so.

But if the case goes to a full trial — although no departure dates have yet been set — it could temporarily freeze the policy.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Home Office confirmed that “continuing nationwide operations” were underway to detain people across the country ahead of removal to Rwanda.

Photos and video were released of immigration enforcement officials detaining multiple immigrants at different residences, who were then led away in handcuffs and loaded into secure vehicles.

Each person considered for forcible removal to Rwanda must be given at least seven days' written notice of the intention, and has the right to initiate a legal challenge.

The government previously said it was aiming for flights to take off in the spring, but now says it could happen in nine to 11 weeks.

Labor has said it will scrap the Rwanda program if it wins the next election.

However, Ellie Reeves, Labor's deputy national campaign co-ordinator, said no when asked repeatedly if the party would release those detained as part of the policy.

“If their claims fail, we want to return people to their countries of origin, which is why we will set up those return agreements and add a thousand caseworkers,” he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

Labor has said it will allow those arriving on small boats to apply for asylum, but there are now some restrictions on arrivals.

The party added that flights to Rwanda carrying asylum seekers would not be planned by the Labor government.

But this means that departures, planned before the election, can still take place.

The precise nature of how Labor will deal with the small boats issue is now under considerable scrutiny, with the general election approaching and the legal framework it will receive if it wins more clearly.

'Great concern'

Number 10 said it was “not accurate” to say the Home Office could not find the others, but a government source admitted it was possible some absconded before they were detained.

The Home Office said it had increased its detention capacity to more than 2,200 places and had 500 highly trained escorts on standby.

Commercial charters have also been registered and the airport has been put on standby, the department said.

Enver Salomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The government's move to detain people is causing fear, distress and great anxiety among men, women and children who have faced war and persecution to reach safety in Britain.”

He said the government should focus on processing asylum claims “efficiently and fairly” rather than “head-on schemes that waste time and resources”.

'Pre-election gimmick'

Figures show 268 people arrived in the UK via the English Channel on five boats on Tuesday.

Provisional Home Office figures show a total of 7,567 people traveled between January and April.

This number is 27% higher than the number of visits recorded during the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the first failed asylum seeker has gone to Rwanda under a separate voluntary removal scheme.

Under the scheme, announced in March, migrants whose claims have been rejected will be paid up to £3,000 to travel to the East African country.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called news of the voluntary withdrawal a “pre-election gimmick” and said taxpayers were “paying £3,000 for a volunteer to get on a plane”.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “They had to pay £3,000 to someone. This is doubtless about an election – it's not about seriously stopping the boats.”

Additional reporting by Jennifer McKiernan and Becky Morton

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