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Home Office spent more than £2.1 million defending Rwanda plan in courts

Home Secretary James Cleverly speaks during a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of a new treaty in the capital Kigali (PA)
Home Secretary James Cleverly speaks during a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of a new treaty in the capital Kigali (PA)

The Home Office has spent more than £2.1 million so far fighting legal challenges to the Government’s Rwanda plan.

The department ran up a bill for more than £1 million as it defended the deal in the initial stage of the court battle.

And the Supreme Court case, which the Government lost last month after five of the UK’s most senior justices ruled the policy was unlawful, cost almost £300,000 in legal fees, according to figures released under freedom of information (FOI) laws.

“As of 30 November 2023, the total amount spent on legal challenges against the Rwanda policy is £2,137,045.70,” a Home Office document obtained and published by journalist Peter Geoghegan on his substack Democracy For Sale said.

The FOI response said the Home Office spent:

– £1,085,146.86 at the High Court;

– £276,317.20 at the Court of Appeal; and

– £299,969.52 at the Supreme Court.

There were also remaining Government Legal Division costs of £475,612.12.

It comes a week after several MPs expressed their exasperation at the lack of detail being provided by the Home Office’s permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft under questioning.

He told the Commons Home Affairs Committee he did not know how much the Government’s legal battle over the deal cost and would provide the information at a later date.

It came amid a series of exchanges on various subjects where Sir Matthew and his second-in-command Simon Ridley were unable to answer questions, prompting committee chairwoman Dame Diana to ask: “Do we have any figures about anything?”

Committee member and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Lee Anderson later added: “I find this absolutely staggering that the big boss hasn’t got a clue, not just on this question, but nearly every other question we’ve asked today.”

Meanwhile, lawyers have said Rishi Sunak’s latest proposed legislation, introduced to Parliament on Thursday in a bid to quell concerns raised in the Supreme Court judgment, is risking the UK’s “international reputation” and could prompt further legal challenges.

Nick Emmerson, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The Rwanda scheme has never been the answer to tackling the asylum question. The Government is risking the UK’s international reputation and its standing in the world to deliver a plan that can, at best, be described as gestural.”

The chairman of the Bar Council, Nick Vineall KC, said: “The Bill will test the precise extent of the constitutional principle of the supremacy of Parliament, and, if passed into law, is likely to give rise to legal challenges.

“If the Government had wished to avoid legal challenges and had also had a high degree of confidence that Rwanda, in fact, is – and will continue to be – a safe place, it seems unlikely that it would have chosen to introduce a Bill in this form.”

John Gould, senior partner and public law specialist at Russell-Cooke, suggested the Bill is the “closest” Parliament has ever come to “specifically directing the courts as to how particular cases must be decided”, adding: “It reminds me of the use of Acts of Attainder in the time of Charles I 400 years ago, in which Parliament simply declared people guilty and subject to execution and the confiscation of all their property.”

He said the terms of the Bill are “unusually clear, specific and relatively simple”, adding: “If it is enacted in this form, I think it is very likely that the courts will have to comply with it. There may, however, be other grounds of challenge which this Bill doesn’t address.”

Human rights groups urged Parliament to reject the Bill.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “It breaches international law, plain and simple”, while Liberty’s interim director Akiko Hart described the move as “nothing short of constitutional vandalism”, adding: “This Bill will make it nearly impossible for the courts to do their job and to scrutinise the actions of the Government, and it will put refugees’ lives and livelihoods at risk.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the Government is taking “crucial steps forward” to respond to the Supreme Court’s findings, which “recognised that changes could be delivered to make this landmark partnership work”, and called on Parliament to make sure the legislation is passed “as soon as possible”.