UK government wins partial victory in Rwanda documents court case

The British government secured a partial victory in a court battle to keep parts of two documents secret which refer to Rwanda’s alleged use of “torture and even killings” ahead of a legal challenge next month to the UK’s controversial policy to send asylum seekers to the African country.

A High Court judge ruled on Wednesday that the government could redact four extracts in the documents ahead of the judicial review that will examine the government’s plan to carry out deportations to Rwanda.

But Lord Justice Clive Lewis refused the application to withhold six further extracts — although he allowed the government to redact specific words and in one case a sentence — in those sections.

The Rwanda policy was unveiled by home secretary Priti Patel in April in a bid to clamp down on illegal Channel crossings. As part of the deal, the UK agreed to pay Kigali an initial £120mn in return for the African country agreeing to process deported asylum seekers for resettlement.

The UK government had argued that it should be able to withhold the extracts on public interest immunity grounds. Its application was accompanied by a certificate signed by Graham Stuart, minister of state in the Foreign Office, which stated that “disclosure would cause serious harm to the United Kingdom’s international relations, primarily (but not exclusively) with the government of Rwanda. ”

The government’s bid for secrecy had been opposed by eight asylum seekers as well as campaign groups and the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, who are jointly challenging the Rwanda policy in the High Court next month.

The judge did not disclose details of the secret material in his ruling on Wednesday but noted that the government redactions “comprise at most a couple of sentences and, in one case, a small number of words”.

The court had been told that the two documents consist of an email from April 26 and an annotated draft of the government’s country policy on Rwanda and its human rights record. Both documents were written by an unnamed Foreign Office official who is an expert in African affairs.

During the hearing Christopher Knight, a barrister representing eight asylum seekers and other parties bringing the legal challenge, read out in court an unredacted section of the email sent by the official about Rwanda which referred to “state control security surveillance structures” and added that “torture and even killings” were a method of enforcing state control.

In his ruling, the judge described two of the redacted extracts in the email as “generalised comments expressed in part in loose and imprecise language” and said the comments should remain secret. “I have no doubt that the disclosure of comments of this nature, expressed as they are, would harm the public interest in maintaining international relations,” he said.

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