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Council of Europe’s parliament adopts resolution expressing concern over Illegal Migration Bill


Parliamentary Assembly says recent legislation risks breaching UK's international legal obligations and the rule of law

Date of Publication:
22 June 2023

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) yesterday adopted a resolution expressing concern over recent legislation in the UK, notably including the Illegal Migration Bill.

CoE logoImage credit: WikipediaPACE says the legislation risks breaching the UK's international legal obligations and thus the rule of law

Doughty Street's Adam Wagner noted on Twitter that the adoption of the resolution was an important development.

The resolution is available here. It states:

"The Assembly is concerned that recent legislation introduced by the UK Government to Parliament, and in particular the Bill of Rights Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill, indicates an increased willingness on the part of the UK Government, and certain legislators, to legislate in a way that could risk breaching the UK's international legal obligations and thus the rule of law. The Assembly is extremely concerned at such developments, and in particular what signal that may send both domestically and internationally.

"The Assembly, moreover, expresses concern that both the Bill of Rights Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill would increase legal uncertainty and conflicts between UK domestic law and the requirements of the European Convention on Human rights – as well as a number of other international conventions. The Assembly notes that these concerns have been similarly expressed by numerous civil society organisations, the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the UK Parliament, the UK's National Human Rights Institutions, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees."

The resolution calls on the British government to make sure that robust processes are in place to ensure respect for the UK's international legal obligations, and to carefully consider the content of legislation that could risk placing the UK in breach of those obligations.

In April, PACE's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons unanimously adopted a statement expressing grave concerns over the Illegal Migration Bill.

The PACE committee said the Bill's provisions were a "wilful distortion" of core UN and European conventions and would jeopardise the right to an effective remedy, breach the non-refoulement principle, endanger victims of forced labour and modern slavery, and strip international protection seekers of their right to seek asylum.

"Non-discrimination, non-penalisation and non-refoulement are the pillars of the Refugee Convention, requiring effective access to fair and individualised procedures. In practice, applying such core principles may prove challenging to state and local authorities in seeking to determine individual applications fairly. Nevertheless, the repeated legislative changes in the UK are resulting in removing much-needed protection for refugees and victims of trafficking, severely disrespecting fundamental human rights standards. Such measures are not a valid policy response to the issues at stake," the statement said.

PACE also took a more detailed look at the Illegal Migration Bill in a report on UK reform of its human rights legislation: consequences for domestic and European Human Rights protection published earlier this month.

The report was authored by PACE's Kamal Jafarov and can be read online here. Section 5 of the report (direct link here) is dedicated to the Bill.

Jafarov, who holds a Master of Laws from King's College London, said: "In relation to the Illegal Migration Bill, there are clearly numerous concerns around its compatibility with international law, including the UN Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Statelessness Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. In this report, I have not considered the minutiae of the bill – migration matters are addressed in greater detail by the Committee on Migrants, Refugees and Displaced Persons, and moreover the details of the bill are necessarily a domestic matter for the UK authorities. However, there are obviously significant concerns, expressed not least by the UNHCR, that this Bill will place the UK in breach of its international obligations. On that subject, I feel it appropriate to highlight that the refugee crisis is an international matter, and perhaps one best solved by international methods for resolving shared challenges. Unilateral attempts to legislate away one's internationally binding obligations are unlikely to result in much progress for international peace and co-operation, nor the protection of some of the world's most vulnerable. In this light, it is important to remember that international law is part of the rule of law and is something we must all endeavour to value and to approach in a spirit of good faith. Whilst this report has focussed on the UK legislation, the general points I have raised are, I hope, of equal relevance to all States seeking to consider the best methods for protecting human rights."