Home Office Spends £76 Million on Legal Challenges Since Johnson Entered Downing Street
As the Rwanda plan is challenged again in the High Court, Sascha Lavin reveals the vast scale and cost of legal challenges against the department behind the controversial scheme
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Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on more than 17,000 legal challenges brought against the Home Office since Boris Johnson took office, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.
The Government has spent more than £76.7 million on legal challenges against the Home Office between 24 July 2019 and 21 September 2022, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
The figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg since legal challenges where the Home Office represents itself – including immigration tribunals, as well as court cases in Scotland and Northern Ireland – are excluded from the data.
The revelation comes as High Court judges are considering the second judicial review of the plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Other legal challenges over the past three years include the seizure of mobile phones from all migrant people entering the UK by small boat; and the removal windows policy which meant that people could be refused and then removed from the UK within a matter of hours with no access to the courts.
Minister for Immigration Tom Pursglove said the Government “expected legal challenges” to the Rwanda scheme and that it will “continue to robustly defend it in the courts – those who criticise the policy offer no viable solutions or alternatives”.
The process of removing asylum seekers to the African country is “unfit” and the Home Secretary has “misdirected herself from the law”, the High Court was told on Thursday.
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In April, then Home Secretary Priti Patel signed what she described as a “world-first agreement” with Rwanda in a bid to deter migrant people from crossing the Channel. However, the first deportation flight – due to take off on 14 June – was grounded amid a series of legal challenges.
During the latest court hearing this week, Charlotte Kilroy KC – appearing on behalf of the Asylum Aid charity – said the policy was “inherently unlawful and unfair”.
“The timescale seems to be set based on how long it would take Rwanda to respond to referrals of individuals, rather than how long individuals needed to make their representations,” Kilroy told the court.
Ahead of the legal challenge, charity Freedom from Torture submitted evidence to the High Court arguing that the short process does not allow asylum seekers enough time to give the Home Office sufficient evidence of their right to claim legal asylum in the UK.
Its chief executive Sonya Sceats said: “We know from decades providing medical, legal and welfare support to torture survivors that the Rwanda policy does too little to identify and protect survivors and other vulnerable groups and could see them placed at risk of further harm.”
The High Court also heard a claim last month brought by the Public and Commercial Services union and the groups Care4Calais and Detention Action, raising concerns about the unsuitability of Rwanda as a destination country for asylum seekers.
The decisions in both cases are expected at the end of October.
The Byline Intelligence Team published a three-part investigation during the first judicial review, raising serious questions about the Home Office’s assessment of human rights in Rwanda. The killing of a thirteenth Congolese refugee in Rwanda in 2018 was uncovered – undermining Government claims that ‘no similar incidences had occurred’ since the shooting of 12 people earlier that year.
Meanwhile, the head of the Byline Intelligence Team, Iain Overton, painted a troubling picture of press repression in the country after he was denied a journalist visa to report on violence against refugees in Rwanda.
The investigation also revealed how enacting the Rwanda scheme as a Memorandum of Understanding, instead of another legal mechanism such as a treaty, means that there is nothing the UK Government can legally do if people deported to Rwanda are mistreated there.
The Human Rights Gaps in theRwanda Scheme RevealedSian Norris
Minister for Immigration Tom Pursglove told Byline Times: “The sooner we can deliver this policy, the sooner we can break the business model of the evil people smugglers and prevent people from making lethal journeys across the Channel and ultimately, stop further loss of life.”
Before taking office, Home Secretary Suella Braverman warned of the “chronic and steady encroachment” of judges and said they had “strained the principle of parliamentary sovereignty”.
She followed in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who accused British lawyers of “abetting the work of criminal gangs” facilitating Channel crossings after an injunction was granted by the European Court of Human Rights grounded the first flight to Rwanda.
In a marked distinction from this rhetoric, Charlotte Kilroy and Mr Justice Swift both stressed the court’s limited scope in this week’s judicial review – clarifying that it was merely to examine the lawfulness of aspects of policy, not to block it or “produce solutions”.
In the face of hundreds of legal challenges, the Government has doubled-down on pursuing hostile immigration policies – with Prime Minister Liz Truss promising to “support and extend” the Rwanda scheme “to more countries”; and Braverman claiming that her “dream” and “obsession” is to see a flight take off with asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Although belt tightening is set to be on the horizon for most departmental budgets – with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying earlier this week that there would be “difficult decisions” for the government regarding public spending – it seems that legal challenges will continue and, with that, a cost to the taxpayer.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.