Skip to main content Skip to footer

UK Supreme Court finds Government's Rwanda policy unlawful

15 November 2023

This morning the UK's Supreme Court unanimously decided that the UK Government's Rwanda policy is unlawful. This is because there are substantial grounds for believing that people seeking safety in the UK would face a real risk of serious ill-treatment due to refoulement if they were removed to Rwanda. Refoulement happens when people seeking safety from significant danger in their own country are sent back there (or to another country) and they will likely be harmed.


Lord Reed, in presenting the Court's judgment opened with the important statement of what the Rwanda policy is and what the Supreme Court's job is:

"It is important at the outset to understand what that policy is. It is not, as is sometimes thought, a policy of sending asylum seekers overseas whilst their claims for asylum in the UK are processed by the UK authorities. The Home Secretary's policy is that people claiming asylum in the UK will not have their claims decided by the UK authorities. Instead, they will be sent to Rwanda where they can claim asylum in Rwanda. Their claims will be decided there, by the Rwandan authorities. If their claims are successful, they will be granted asylum in Rwanda. If their claims are unsuccessful Rwanda is entitled to expel them from its territory.


In this appeal the Supreme Court is required to decide whether that policy is lawful. That is a legal question which the court has to decide on the basis of evidence and established legal principles. The court is not concerned with the political debate about the policy and nothing in its judgment should be regarded as supporting or opposing any political view of the issues."


We welcome this clear statement from the Supreme Court. Too often cases on people's universal human rights are reduced to political point scoring and attacks on the role of courts in securing legal accountability as part of our democratic processes.


Speaking on the judgment today, Sanchita Hosali, BIHR's CEO said:


“The Supreme Court's job is to look at the lawfulness of the UK Government's policy. Law includes human rights laws which protect all people, including our Human Rights Act and the European Convention, but, as the Court importantly noted, this judgment also refers to many other laws which the UK has legal duties to uphold.


“Our Supreme Court is clear; the Government's Rwanda policy is unlawful. Essentially, the UK Government cannot absolve itself of the legal duty to prevent serious ill-treatment of people by quite literally shipping them somewhere else and forgetting about them. The law requires a basic standard of decency from those with public power, to uphold people's fundamental protections against ill-treatment; it is the hallmark of a decent democracy to ensure this is a reality of everyone."

About the author


Stay up-to-date

Get our newsletter

Get monthly updates on UK human rights law and our work, resources and events sent straight to your inbox.