High court rules parts of UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act should not apply in Northern Ireland News
© WikiMedia (William Murphy)
High court rules parts of UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act should not apply in Northern Ireland

The High Court of Northern Ireland delivered a setback to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy by ruling that substantial sections of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 (IMA) violate human rights laws and should not be enforced in Northern Ireland.

Numerous provisions of the IMA were under challenge during the proceedings, and the applicants asserted that these sections were incompatible with the Windsor Framework and section 7A of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018. The Windsor Framework, a post-Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU, stipulates that there can be no decrease in the rights outlined in Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The applicants also argued that parts of the legislation were incompatible with several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The judge agreed, saying “As will be apparent, I have found that there is a relevant diminution of right in each of the areas relied upon by the applicants.”

The IMA, passed in 2023, bars individuals who arrive in the UK through irregular methods like small boat crossings from being eligible to seek asylum. The aim of the act was “to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes, by requiring the removal from the United Kingdom of certain persons who enter or arrive in the United Kingdom in breach of immigration control.”

In September 2023, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) challenged the act via a judicial review against the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The NIHRC highlighted that certain provisions in the act would have a harmful impact on asylum seekers, particularly vulnerable groups such as children and victims of trafficking. Despite NIHRC  concerns raised during the passage of the legislation through Parliament, the bill received Royal Assent. The NIHRC said that they “welcomed today’s judgment in relation to our challenge to the Illegal Migration Act.”

The prime minister said that the judgment would not change the government’s Rwanda deportation plans, stating that “nothing will distract us from that or delivering to the timetable I set out. We must start the flights to stop the boats.” He said that the commitments to the Good Friday Agreement should be understood within their original scope and not expanded to address issues such as illegal migration, stating “We will take all steps to defend that position, including through appeal.”

Sinéad Marmion, the solicitor who worked on the case, said: “Today’s findings give hope to those claiming asylum in Northern Ireland. In an environment of negative rhetoric for those requiring international protection, rights and justice has prevailed.”