UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Tuesday called for changes to international law regarding migration that experts think government will break by allowing UK ministers to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Sunak is scheduled to meet with heads of the EU and the ECHR in Iceland to discuss the changes. Sunak’s call for changes coincide with the attempted passage of his government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which would require the deportation of anyone who illegally entered the UK and passed through a safe country.
Sunak’s call for changes specifically revolve around the application of Rule 39, which allows the ECHR complete oversight of the UK’s application of international law and immigration policies, and its interim measures. The ECHR previously acted on this rule when they intervened at the last minute to prevent the UK from deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The rule also allows the court to stop the “expulsion or extradition of people.”
In his speech Tuesday, Sunak said, “We spend £5.5 million a day housing asylum seekers, with our overburdened system unable to prioritise the most vulnerable because of the overwhelming demands put on it by those who come here illegally and jump the queue.” Under the Illegal Migration Bill, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is permitted to ignore any ruling falling within the remit of Rule 39–effectively doing away with ECHR oversight on the matter.
Both the Law Society and the Bar Council of England and Wales have suggested that the Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords, will breach the UK’s obligations under international law. The two major bodies, responsible for regulating the UK legal sector, have condemned the decision.
Bar Council Chair Nick Vineall KC briefed peers ahead of the House of Lord’s second reading of the bill and said, “Is a deeply flawed piece of legislation. It undermines access to justice and contravenes fundamental principles that form the bedrock of the UK’s constitutional settlement. We hope the House of Lords will reject it.”
The Law Society condemned the bill as “unworkable,” claiming it breaches the UK’s international obligations and undermines the rule of law. Deputy Vice President of the Law Society Richard Atkinson said, “If the UK were to refuse to comply with a European Court of Human Rights ruling this would entail a clear and serious breach of international law.”
Sunak’s government has insisted that the bill does not breach the UK’s obligations under international law.