Government loses secrecy bid over Rwanda policy documents

High Court says majority of passages in internal documents targeted for public-interest immunity must be disclosed
The Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photo: R/DV/RS/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Jim Dunton

18 Aug 2022

The government has been told that it must reveal information it was seeking to withhold on the controversial policy of sending some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to Rwanda for their claims to be processed.

Foreign secretary – and Conservative Party leadership frontrunner – Liz Truss sought immunity from disclosure for 10 passages from two internal documents relating to the policy on the grounds that they could damage international relations and compromise national security if they were published.

But Lord Justice Lewis has refused the request for public interest immunity in relation to six of the passages, and granted it in the remaining four.

He ruled the passages must be disclosed to claimants before a High Court hearing on 5 September that will determine whether the Rwanda policy is lawful.

The BBC, the Guardian and The Times made submissions to the court arguing that disclosure of the 10 passages was in the public interest.

The passages were contained in a draft country policy and information note about the asylum system and related human rights issues in Rwanda, and in an accompanying email.

Lord Justice Lewis ruled that there was public interest in the court having access to some of the material.

“I recognise strong public interest in not undermining international relations with a friendly state,” he said in his judgment, in a reference to Rwanda.

“Nonetheless that consideration is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring access to relevant information in this litigation.”

Bella Sankey, director of the Detention Action charity, which is a claimant in the case, said it was “essential” that the media and the public had the facts about the Rwanda policy before they cast judgment on it.

A government spokesperson said Rwanda was a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.

“We have a strong relationship with the Rwandan government and are proud to be working together to deliver on this world-leading migration and economic development partnership with them,” they said.

“We remain committed to implementing the policy, which will help break the business model of criminal gangs and save lives.”

On Tuesday the High Court heard an extract from a memo written by a Foreign Office official and dated 26 April – two weeks after home secretary Priti Patel signed the asylum deal with Rwanda – explaining how the Rwandan government exerted considerable control over its citizens.

It said: “There are state control, security, surveillance structures from the national level down to the ten households as a unit of administration (a combination of party, intelligence and military). Political opposition is not tolerated and arbitrary detention, torture and even killings are accepted methods of enforcing control too.”

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