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Lords Seek To Bolster Role Of Supreme Court With Rwanda Bill

The House of Lords is set to vote on a raft of amendments to the government's Rwanda Bill. (Alamy)

5 min read

The House of Lords will vote on a fresh wave of amendments to the government's Rwanda Bill on Monday and Wednesday, with peers placing much of their focus on the role of the Supreme Court in deporting illegal migrants to Rwanda.

As voting began on the amendments on Monday, the government were defeated heavily on Amendment 2, which said the Rwanda legislation must comply with international law by 274 votes to 172, a majority of 102.

The Government's controversial Rwanda scheme seeks to deport asylum seekers arriving by irregular routes, such as on small boats, to Rwanda for processing and settlement. It was announced under Boris Johnson's premiership but has failed multiple legal hurdles in the years since. 

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the policy ruling Rwanda was not a safe country and that people deported to Rwanda for processing would not be protected from the potential for "refoulement" if sent to the African nation. 

In response to the ruling, the government re-wrote the legislation, which now includes declaring Rwanda a safe country – despite the ruling of the court. 

The Bill, which passed its third reading in the House of Commons last year and will begin its report stage this week with Lords, will see peers vote on multiple amendments.

Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti told PoliticsHome the core focus of amendments would be to restore the "jurisdiction" of the Supreme Court. 

"In legal terms, and rule of law terms, what the government has done is taken the Supreme Court saying Rwanda is not safe, and they've said: 'Well, we're going to pass a law to make Rwanda safe – whether it is, or it isn't'. In other words, 'we're going to not let the courts interfere'," she explained. "It's banana republic stuff... it's a post truth bill."

Chakrabarti said in this vein, amendments set to be voted on on Monday were seeking to "give the court back their power to supervise this policy". She described this as the "most significant" of all the amendments. 

Earlier on Monday, Home Secretary James Cleverly told The Times that if the Lords blocked the legislation, it could embolden the far right. Cleverly attributed a member of the far right British National Party being elected to the London Assembly in 2008 to Labour's handling of migration during their time in government in the early 2000s. "Labour dropped the ball. I have no intention of doing that,” he said. 

Former home secretary and former Conservative party leader Lord Michael Howard told the BBC he believed the Supreme Court had acted in "breach" of the separation of powers when it ruled the government's Rwanda bill unlawful last year. 

“On the constitutional issue, we have always had as part of our rule of law something called the separation of powers," Howard said. 

“And what the separation of powers has always meant is that governments decide and the courts then review their decisions to see whether or not those decisions are lawful. Judicial review. 

“That was the test applied in this case by the divisional court, the first court which had to consider the matter, and it held that what the Government was proposing to do was lawful. When it came to the Supreme Court, they said ‘that test is wrong, we should decide these things for ourselves’. 

“That is a breach of the separation of powers. It is governments’ responsibility to decide and all the Government is doing in the Rwanda Bill is reclaiming its traditional role under the separation of powers. It has to decide, not the courts.” 

Other amendments expected to be voted on on Wednesday in the Lords include preventing asylum seekers arriving by irregular routes from being deported to Rwanda for processing and resettlement if they have served the UK in countries like Afghanistan or are victims of modern slavery. 

"People who have served Britain in Afghanistan, translators and diplomats and people put themselves in harm's way for Britain, are now set to be sent to Rwanda if they get here in a boat, which is outrageous," said Chakrabarti.

"And also victims of modern day slavery and trafficking. So there's some exemptions [in the amendments] – children, victims of modern day slavery, trafficking, people who put themselves in harm's way for the UK – who should never be sent to Rwanda."

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and a number of crossbench peers are expected to back the latest raft of amendments. Chakrabarti told PoliticsHome she believed the likelihood of the amendments passing depended on whether Tory peers turn up to vote. 

"A lot depends on what the Tories stay at home, or whether they really want to come out and vote for this awful bill, and this government, at this stage," she continued. 

Should the Lords succeed in passing amendments to the legislation it would at most delay it, with the government likely seeking to reverse the amendments once it returns to House of Commons for its final reading this month – with the bill set to finish its journey through parliament by April.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has previously said he wants to see flights leaving the UK for Rwanda by spring, with £220m paid to Rwanda so far despite the country not yet receiving any asylum seekers - with costs set to climb higher if flights leave the ground. 

The National Audit office last week revealed that the plans will cost the UK taxpayer £1.8m per person for the first 300 people the government sends to Rwanda. 

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