The UK government on Tuesday urged a High Court judge to keep secret parts of a document that refers to Rwanda’s alleged use of “torture and even killings” as a way of enforcing state control.
The application came ahead of a judicial hearing next month that will determine the legality of government plans to send asylum seekers to the African country.
The Rwanda deal, announced by home secretary Priti Patel in April as a way of deterring people smugglers and illegal Channel crossings, involved the UK handing over an initial payment of £120mn to Kigali in return for processing deported asylum seekers.
Tory leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss both support the Rwanda policy, which has provoked outrage from human rights groups, some lawyers and clerics but is popular with the right of the Tory party.
Christopher Knight, a barrister representing eight asylum seekers and other parties bringing the legal challenge, read out in court an unredacted section of an email sent by an unnamed official on April 2022 about Rwanda that referred to “state control security surveillance structures” and added that “torture and even killings” were a method of enforcing state control.
The UK government asked the court to rule that the Rwanda policy hearing on September 5 should not include 11 extracts of two documents. It claimed that disclosing the material could harm relations between Britain and Rwanda, arguing their case on public interest immunity grounds.
The government’s application was opposed by lawyers acting for the asylum seekers together with the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, and two campaign groups that are jointly bringing the court challenge next month.
The High Court heard on Tuesday that the two documents consisted of an email from April 26 2022 and an annotated draft of the government’s country policy on Rwanda and its human rights record.
Both documents were written by an unnamed official from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office with expertise in African affairs, the court was told.
Knight claimed that part of the government’s country policy document contained “a number of serious criticisms about human rights compliance in Rwanda”.
Neil Sheldon QC, representing the government, claimed there was “a real risk” that disclosure of the redacted material ahead of the hearing “would cause serious harm” to the UK’s international relations with the government of Rwanda.
He said the government was “mindful” that not disclosing parts of the documents would deprive the claimants of “certain evidence that might be deployed in these proceedings”.
But, he added, a proper account needed to be taken of the important public interest in the maintenance of UK-Rwanda relations.
The government said: “Rwanda is a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.
“We remain committed to delivering this policy to break the business model of criminal gangs and save lives.”
Lord Justice Clive Lewis is expected to rule on the application on Wednesday.
This article was amended after publication to clarify the detail of the application’s submission to the High Court.
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