Rwanda Bill threatens to undermine independence of judiciary, UN experts say: UK


UN experts* today expressed concern that the “Safety of Rwanda” Bill under consideration in the United Kingdom may violate the principle of non-refoulement, and may not provide for effective access to asylum, without discrimination, or a fair and proper consideration of asylum claims. The UK-Rwanda treaty, if ratified, would not remedy or correct these concerns.

The experts recalled that the UK Supreme Court ruled in November 2023 that the Court of Appeal was entitled to hold that the UK’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful on the basis that Rwanda is not a safe third country. The Court held that there was a real risk that asylum claims would not be determined fairly in Rwanda’s asylum system and that refugees would be refouled either directly or indirectly from Rwanda to their countries of origin. The Supreme Court also emphasised that the prohibition of refoulement was given effect in several international treaties to which the United Kingdom is a party, and by customary international law, as well as domestic legislation including the Immigration Acts, and the Human Rights Act, 1998.

The experts noted with concern that, by purporting to override the UK Supreme Court’s findings, the Rwanda Bill – as currently drafted – overrides the power of the judiciary to rule independently on the facts of cases before it and apply the law. “Provisions in the draft law would unduly limit judicial independence by requiring judges to treat Rwanda as a safe third country now and in the future, regardless of the any evidence to the contrary before them,” the UN experts said.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact of the bill on the rights of individual asylum-seekers – including potential victims of trafficking – to an effective remedy, as recognised under international human rights law, to challenge the third country’s determination of safety and to be protected against refoulement, including through effective access to the courts,” they said.

“Prohibiting courts and tribunals in the UK from applying and interpreting principles of domestic human rights law and international law would undermine the ability of the courts to protect all those under UK jurisdiction from violations of their human rights as provided under international law,” the experts said.

They recalled that international standards on the independence of the judiciary are closely linked to the rule of law and the separation of powers. “Provisions of the Rwanda Bill could undermine the principles of the separation of powers and the rule of law in the United Kingdom,” they said.

They also noted that the proposed legislation would prevent courts from applying interim measures ordered by the European Court of Human Rights. “Interim measures are particularly important for the protection of human rights in urgent cases where there is a real risk of irreparable harm,” they said, noting with concern that the Rwanda Bill could also prohibit general legal action in UK courts.

“For these reasons, the provisions in the Rwanda Bill constitute an interference with the independence of the judiciary and a violation of international law,” the experts said.

“We recommend that the Safety of Rwanda (Immigration and Asylum) Bill be reviewed and reconsidered to ensure that it is in line with the UK’s international human rights obligations,” the experts said. “We stand ready to engage with the UK on this very important issue.”

The UN experts have written to the UK authorities about their concerns.

/Public Release. View in full here.