THE UK’s highest court has heard starkly differing accounts of the Rwandan regime being paid £120million to implement a key plank of the Government’s asylum policy.

Lawyers for asylum seekers facing deportation said the east Africa state “imprisons, tortures and murders” its opponents, while lawyers for the Government insisted it was safe.

The claims were made on the opening day of a hearing before five Supreme Court justices in London about whether the Rwanda policy is lawful.

The High Court ruled in December last year that the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was lawful as it was a “safe third country”.

However in a majority judgment at the Court of Appeal, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill later overturned that ruling, finding “substantial grounds” to think  asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would face “real risks” of torture and maltreatment.

The Home Office is appealing the Court of Appeal decision, which Rishi Sunak said he “fundamentally" disagreed with and was seen as a blow to his “stop the boats” pledge.

Raza Husain KC, representing a number of asylum seekers, told the Supreme Court that Rwanda had a “woefully deficient” asylum system, and that Home Office officials had “repeatedly recorded their concerns” about human rights issues.

He said: “The Rwandan asylum system is woefully deficient. It’s marked by acute unfairness and arbitrariness… serious safeguarding and capacity issues.”

He said Home Secretary Suella Braverman “does not dispute the state of the Rwandan asylum system significantly… but rather seeks to ignore it”.

He said the Government’s case was that Rwanda’s assurances “change everything” and the past is “of little relevance”, despite “evidence of large scale abuse” under a similar previous agreement the country had with Israel.

The court should reject the Government’s “extravagant claims”, Mr Husain submitted. 

Earlier, Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, said the policy to remove people to “a country less attractive” than the UK was “nevertheless safe” and lawful.

He said “the appeal is, at its heart, about the judgments made by Government about the future conduct of a friendly foreign state - Rwanda”.

He said both countries were “committed” to the deal, with “very powerful” practical incentives for Rwanda to comply with the assurances given.

Sir James told the hearing there was “a serious and pressing need to take effective steps that will act as a deterrent to those undertaking the perilous and sometimes life-threatening journey, typically across the Channel, from a safe country”.

Referencing concerns that had been raised over the policy and Rwanda’s history, including by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, he said: “Whatever debates there might have been… it is, at best, peripheral. This is a new context with a new set of detailed arrangements.”

Sir James said that asylum seekers’ rights of review and appeal were “embedded” in the deal with Rwanda, which also “guaranteed” access to legal support.

In written arguments, he added that transfers to the east African nation “will take place only with the consent of the Rwandan authorities and numbers will, in the first instance, be low”.

He said the “independently monitored” deal and assurances were designed to ensure anyone sent to Rwanda “will have a safe and effective determination of their asylum claim” that is compatible with human rights conventions.

In the UNHCR’s written submissions to the Supreme Court, Angus McCullough KC said it had “consistently expressed grave concerns” about the safety and legality of the policy.

He continued: “UNHCR maintains its unequivocal warning against the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda under the UK-Rwanda Arrangement.”

Several asylum seekers who were set to be deported on the first planned flight to Rwanda in June 2022 – which was grounded minutes before take-off following a ruling by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – are opposing the Government’s appeal.

The hearing before Lords Reed, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones, Briggs and Sales is expected to end on Wednesday, with a judgment at a later date.

Doctors without Borders executive director Natalie Roberts called the Government’s plans to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda “cruel, dangerous and futile”.

Dr Roberts said: “It is abhorrent that the UK is punishing people simply for seeking safety – and at the same time shutting down the few safe routes to the country that exist.

“Ministers must abandon the Rwanda policy and instead focus on establishing routes to the UK for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”