Civil service union starts legal action against government over Rwanda deportation plan

The FDA union will try to challenge ministers’ Rwanda plan passed last week in parliement in the courts

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 01 May 2024 18:26 BST
Home Office detain first set of migrants to be deported to Rwanda

The civil service union has started legal action against the government over its plan to detain asylum seekers and fly them to Rwanda.

The FDA union will try and take ministers to court over the legislation, which was passed by parliament last week after weeks of back and forth between MPs and the Lords. The union is worried about what would happen if civil servants were told by ministers to break international law when carrying out the deportations.

Under the Civil Service code, government employees have a duty to abide by the law and union bosses think the government has created a conflict of interest if civil servants are ordered to disregard a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR could be forced to intervene in Rwanda deportations if an asylum seeker takes their case to the Strasbourg court. Judges can make a Rule 39 order in these circumstances, directing the UK government to stop the removal. This is what halted the first Rwanda flight and set off a long legal battle in the UK, which culminated in the Supreme Court saying Rwanda was not safe for asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge (PA Wire)

The FDA union have applied for a judicial review over the conflict of interest, meaning a High Court judge will initially have to consider whether their case can go ahead.

General secretary Dave Penman said: “This is not a decision that we have taken lightly. The government has had plenty of time to include an explicit provision in the Act regarding breaking international law commitments which would have resolved this, but it chose not to.

“Civil servants should never be left in a position where they are conflicted between the instructions of ministers and adhering to the Civil Service Code, yet that is exactly what the government has chosen to do.”

Mr Penman said it was “a political choice from the government” and was “irresponsible”. Rishi Sunak said last week that civil servants must deliver instructions from ministers to ignore ECHR rulings. He said he had amended guidance for civil servants to make it clear that they need to follow directions from ministers, even if the directions go against international law.

The union’s announcement came after the Home Office revealed they had conducted a number of detentions across the UK of asylum seekers chosen for Rwanda deportation.

Mr Sunak has said that flights will take off at the beginning of July and home secretary James Cleverly said on Wednesday that enforcement teams were working “at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here”.

Some 800 officers are being deployed on the operation, dubbed Operation Vector, to detain hundreds of asylum seekers for the first flight to Rwanda.

Officers started detaining people on Monday when they came to report at immigration centres, as well as turning up at people’s homes and detaining them there. The operation will continue until the number of designated spots in immigration detention, set aside for those going to Rwanda, are full.

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