The British government on Tuesday urged a High Court judge to keep secret parts of a document referring to Rwanda’s alleged use of ‘torture and even murder’ as a means of imposing control on the State.
The request by Home Secretary Priti Patel came ahead of a court hearing next month that will determine the legality of the government’s plans to send asylum seekers to the African country.
The Rwanda deal, announced by Patel in April as a way to deter smugglers and illegal Channel crossings, involved the UK handing over an upfront payment of £120m to Kigali in return for processing deported asylum seekers.
Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss both back Rwandan politics, which has drawn outrage from human rights groups, some lawyers and clerics, but is popular with the right of the Conservative Party.
Christopher Knight, a lawyer representing eight asylum seekers and other litigants, read in court an unredacted section of an email sent by an anonymous official in April 2022 about Rwanda that referred to “state control security surveillance structures” and added that “torture and even killings” were a method of imposing state control.
The UK government has asked the court to rule that the hearing on Rwandan politics on September 5 should not include 11 excerpts from two documents. He claimed that leaking the material could harm relations between Britain and Rwanda, arguing their case on public interest immunity grounds.
The government’s request has faced opposition from lawyers representing asylum seekers, as well as the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, and two campaign groups who will jointly take legal action next month.
The High Court heard on Tuesday that the two documents consisted of an email dated April 26, 2022 and an annotated draft of the government’s national policy on Rwanda and its human rights record.
Both documents were written by an unnamed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office official specializing in African affairs, the court heard.
Knight claimed that part of the government’s national policy document contained “a number of serious criticisms regarding respect for human rights in Rwanda”.
Neil Sheldon QC, representing the government, claimed there was a “real risk” that releasing the redacted documents before the hearing would “cause serious harm” to the UK’s international relations with the government of Rwanda.
He said the government was “aware” that withholding parts of the documents would deprive the claimants of “certain evidence that could be deployed in this proceeding”.
But, he added, due consideration had to be given to the substantial public interest in maintaining relations between the UK and Rwanda.
Lord Justice Clive Lewis is expected to rule on the claim on Wednesday.