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Joint Committee on Human Rights: Nationality and Borders Bill is littered with measures that are incompatible with human rights law and UK’s international obligations

Summary:

Important new report by Parliamentary committee examines Part 3 of Bill on immigration offences and enforcement

Date of Publication:
01 December 2021

Joint Committee on Human Rights: Nationality and Borders Bill is littered with measures that are incompatible with human rights law and UK’s international obligations

01 December 2021
EIN

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has today published a timely and important new legislative scrutiny report looking at Part 3 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which deals with immigration offences and enforcement.

ImmigrationYou can download the 80-page report here or read it online here.

Notably, the Committee finds that the Bill's proposed new powers to pushback and criminalise asylum seekers crossing the English Channel by small boat is likely to see the UK act in contravention of its international obligations and will breach human rights law and the Refugee Convention.

Harriet Harman MP, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, described the Bill as being "littered with measures that are simply incompatible with human rights law and the UK's obligations under international treaties."

The Committee says a policy of pushbacks in the Channel would endanger lives at sea, contrary to the UK's obligations under the right to life and international maritime law.

The report states: "Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which is incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, protects the right to life. The UK is required to adopt laws and practices to safeguard the right to life; this includes the safety of lives at sea. The Channel crossing is a very dangerous route and small boat crossings already too often end in loss of life. The Government's legislation and policy intentions with regard to pushbacks at sea are likely to increase the danger of these crossings whilst failing to deter those who make the journey and the people smugglers who profit from them. We do not see how the Government's proposals as they stand are consistent with our human rights obligations."

The Committee adds that pushbacks could lead to situations where victims of slavery or human trafficking are not protected and where action is not taken to adequately investigate and prosecute perpetrators of slavery or human trafficking.

"We therefore do not see how a pushback policy under the proposed new maritime enforcement powers can be operated in compliance with the UK’s obligations to combat slavery and human trafficking, under Article 4 ECHR, Article 8 ICCPR, ECAT and the UN Palermo Protocol," the report adds.

Proposals in the Bill that would criminalise asylum seekers arriving in the UK without a valid entry clearance would be inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, the Joint Committee says.

The report notes: "The Bill would also make it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK illegally. Whilst some legal routes to entry, such as through a resettlement scheme, do exist, these are extremely limited. The new offence is clearly inconsistent with our obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention, including Article 31, which prohibits the penalisation of refugees for unauthorised entry. The Bill would also make it a criminal offence to facilitate illegal arrival into the UK, potentially criminalising those who rescue migrants from the Channel and bring them to the UK, once again in contravention of the right to life under Article 2 of the ECHR."

Other concerns identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights include the Bill's proposed changes to the law governing the grant of immigration bail. The Committee warns these changes increase the risk that immigration detention will be used, and prolonged, where it is not necessary or proportionate.

Harriet Harman said: "The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and despite its short distance the cold and choppy waters make crossing perilous. In their desperation to come to the UK people risk travelling in small and unsuitable boats. As we have seen, the consequences are devastating when something goes wrong.

"The Government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution. They will not deter crossings, the seas will become even more dangerous and the people smugglers will continue to evade punishment. Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action.

"The Bill is littered with measures that are simply incompatible with human rights law and the UK's obligations under international treaties. That is why we have called on the Government amend the Bill by clearly setting out how any new measures can be carried out with respect to human rights law. Any measures that cannot meet these standards should be removed from the Bill completely."