Amendment 36

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:25 pm ar 6 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Hope of Craighead:

Moved by Lord Hope of Craighead

36: Clause 5, page 5, line 15, leave out “Accordingly, a court or tribunal must not” and insert “Notwithstanding subsection (2), a court or tribunal may”

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, there are three amendments in this group, and they are all directed to the provisions of Clause 5 as to how interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights under Rule 39 of its rules are to be dealt with. None of these amendments is to be pressed to a Division, and so, following the example of the noble Baroness, I can be fairly brief.

My Amendment 36 seeks to replace the direction in Clause 5(3) that a court or tribunal of this country

“must not have regard to the interim measure when considering any application or appeal which relates to a decision to remove the person to … Rwanda” with the provision that a court or tribunal “may” do so.

I have also added my name to Amendment 37, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which would require a Minister of the Crown to consult the Attorney-General before deciding whether the United Kingdom will comply with the interim measure. Amendment 38, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, deals with the problem that Clause 5 creates more directly, in that it seeks to leave out the clause altogether.

Although we deal with the clause in different ways, we are united in our belief that Clause 5 provides for what will be a plain breach of international law. I do not think that I need to say much about that at this stage, because it was very fully debated in Committee. There are two different views, one way and the other, but I believe that, while that difference of view may remain, it can really be regarded as academic when one has regard to what happens in practice.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said in his contribution to our debate on 19 February that:

“International law has, therefore, reached a settled state of practice and agreement between member states and the Strasbourg court”.—[Official Report, 19/2/24; col. 468.]

That agreement is that interim measures are treated as binding. The United Kingdom has contributed to that settled state, not only by always complying with such measures until now but by calling on other states to do so when it suits our interests.

It is well recognised that custom, such as that in which this country has participated, is a source of international law. That has a long history; much of the civil law system, before the adoption of codes in the time of Napoleon, was built on custom and is still part of the law in certain respects in Jersey. The fact that states act in a consistent manner, as the United Kingdom has done and has called on others to do until now, can be seen as a good indication that member states are under an obligation to do so.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Ceidwadwyr

Will the noble and learned Lord comment on the decision of the French Government to ignore Rule 39 rulings and, in particular, to send someone back to Uzbekistan?

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

I was trying to explain that I am not getting engaged in that kind of debate. We have discussed the issue very fully in Committee —this is Report, and I have stated my position. I hope that the noble Lord, who has spoken now, will be content to accept that I can proceed and present my position.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Ceidwadwyr

But your position is that this is now settled and that member states all agree, when they patently do not.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, I am not going to respond. As I say, this is Report, and I am adopting a very particular position on settled practice, which the United Kingdom has participated in without exception, ever since the matter first was put into the rules. That being so, the idea that this country can simply unilaterally depart from that practice when it suits it is contrary to international law and is misconceived. My amendment, therefore, seeks to avoid that position and would allow the courts of this country to play a part in the procedure.

The Constitution Committee said in its report that Clause 5(3) raises “serious constitutional concerns”. I agree with that. As the committee put it:

“It is conceivable that a person may bring legal proceedings in the UK to compel a minister to adhere to an interim measure”.

Clause 5(3), as it stands, would prevent our courts giving effect to an interim measure in that way. The committee regarded that as a breach of the principle of the independence of the judiciary, which all Ministers of the Crown are under a duty, under Section 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, to uphold.

Our courts and tribunals should be able to exercise that role. There may be defects in the procedures adopted by the European Court of Human Rights; among other things, there is no right for the party against whom proceedings are brought to appear and express a view, whereas in our courts that certainly is a position, and our procedures are much more consistent with what we regard as in accordance with proper procedures. What my amendment seeks to do, very simply, is to enable our courts and tribunals to exercise that role in this important matter. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur 5:30, 6 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I will speak very briefly in support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the amendments in this group. I do so for three reasons.

First, whatever one’s views about international law, parties to any dispute must have some access to interim relief—whether neighbourhood disputes or business disputes, and particularly in relation to human rights concerns. The Government are resisting interim relief in our domestic courts, but they really cannot do that in relation to the European Court of Human Rights as well, or there will be no interim relief for mistakes that can lead to very dire consequences—as has happened in the past, even in immigration cases in this country.

The second reason I support the amendments in the group is this. When the Government originally raised concerns about Rule 39 last year, it was because of natural justice concerns about the procedure of the courts not always allowing Governments to be heard, or not allowing them to be heard after interim relief had been granted. Those procedural concerns have now been addressed, not least thanks to the efforts of Foreign Office Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, for which he is to be commended.

Finally, I think back to yesterday’s debate, which did your Lordships’ House such credit. I remind noble Lords that there are currently Rule 39 interim measures in place to prevent the Russian Federation executing Ukrainian prisoners of war. It will do our arguments and moral authority no good at all if we start saying that we can pick and choose which Rule 39 measures we accept.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—in relation to his question to the noble and learned Lord—that he might like to look at today’s Politico, where Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has criticised not just the present Bill but the French state for the very case that he referred to. The French were wrong to do what they did and we must do better.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I oppose Amendments 36, 37, and 38 in respect of Rule 39 interim measures. I am afraid that I will not observe or respect the admonition that we should brief necessarily. We are discussing the substantial and significant issue of parliamentary sovereignty, and the right of the British people to have their views respected and not blocked by an unelected House, especially when the elected House, the other place, has been able to make a decision in significant numbers.

In deference to the sensitivities of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I will, for the avoidance of doubt, be referring to “an international” rather than “a foreign” court. I am sure he will be pleased about that. These are fundamentally blocking or wrecking amendments, designed to make the Bill inoperable. They are designed to thwart the will of the people, expressed through an electoral mandate and the will of the other place, to reduce immigration and to fulfil the primary duty of government, which is to protect its borders and its people and, more importantly—I look to the Lords spiritual in this respect—the moral imperative to save lives in the channel and destroy the business model of evil people traffickers.

More specifically, these amendments subvert and traduce the long-held principle that our laws are made in Parliament and implemented by the courts—simply, the concept of parliamentary sovereignty—in favour of a nebulous, opaque concept of “the rule of law” and the ECHR as a living document. The former is essentially uncodified and lacks precise consensual meaning, but it is used to advance judicial activism by unelected, unaccountable jurists in an international court, undermining faith and trust in the court system, parliamentary democracy and government in this country and destroying the delicate equilibrium between the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. There is but one rule of law, and that is made in Parliament by elected representatives. That confers legitimacy on our proceedings. These amendments will assist in furthering the trend towards the politicisation of the judiciary.

Even the concept of the separation of powers, much lauded in this House, is itself alien to the constitutional settlement of the UK, and is certainly an evolving issue. It is unclear and prey to subjective interpretation, as we established earlier this week on Report when we discussed the deeming presumption of a safe list for asylum seekers, including Greece, in the case of Nasseri v Secretary of State in 2009. This was ultimately found by the Appeal Court and the House of Lords, under Section III of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act in respect of inhuman treatment, not to have violated those pieces of legislation. That was the Blair Government, who created an unrebuttable presumption that a list of countries was safe, so there is a precedent already set many years ago.

I wish to ponder briefly the idea of the rule of law, Rule 39 interim measures and the implications for parliamentary sovereignty and the myth of the ECHR, which is eulogised with rapture by so many noble Lords in the context of our own Parliament and judicial system. Advancing the rule of law as superior to parliamentary sovereignty—“the rule of lawyers”, as my noble friend Lord Lilley said in his excellent opinion editorial in the Daily Telegraph two days ago—is what we are looking at. It is about the subjective fiat of another court, over which we have no control. It is a modern phenomenon, as opposed to parliamentary sovereignty, and an example of judicial mission creep. That said, even Lord Bingham stated, after the case of Jackson v Attorney-General on the Hunting Act 2004:

“The bedrock of the British constitution is … the supremacy of the Crown in Parliament”.

He echoed the thoughts of such eminent jurists as Lord Denning and AV Dicey, to whom I referred in Committee.

As we know, and as my noble friend Lord Lilley alluded to earlier, the French have taken an altogether more robust view of the authority and sanctity of their own domestic legislation vis-à-vis the perverse and sometimes dangerous and damaging rulings of the ECHR. In November 2023, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin removed an Uzbek national, MA, who was allegedly a radicalised Islamist extremist, despite a Rule 39 interim measure against this being done, the first time that the French Government have openly defied such an interim measure. Indeed, they also defied the Conseil d’État, the equivalent of the Supreme Court.

The French elite is more likely to question and challenge the état de droit, the French equivalent of the rule of law. In an article in Le Figaro

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

The noble Lord said earlier that he wants to speak at length because he feels the issue is important to expand on. The Companion says about Report at paragraph 8.147:

“Arguments fully deployed in Committee of the whole House or in Grand Committee should not be repeated at length on report”.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

I am interested that the noble Baroness for the Liberal Democrats is so keen to avoid debate but, for the avoidance of doubt, I have not repeated any points I previously raised.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

We do not make Second Reading speeches on Report.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

I take on board the noble Baroness’s view, but I am not making a Second Reading speech. I am speaking specifically about these amendments.

Photo of Lord Gascoigne Lord Gascoigne Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there is a long day ahead and there have been many deliberations on all these subjects beforehand. Good points have been made about the Companion. I ask that every noble Lord observes what is in it and tries to be as concise as possible.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

I thank the Whip for that guidance. If I can proceed to conclude my remarks—

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr

However much the noble Baroness heckles from a sedentary position, I will not sit down and I will finish my speech. Rule 39 interim measures, as we learned in Committee, were not in any meaningful sense court rulings per se and, more specifically, great British statesmen and jurists such as David Maxwell Fyfe, who has been quoted, and Winston Churchill never signed up to the court taking powers upon itself to make binding injunctions. This is at the very heart of these amendments. Indeed, it was debated and specifically rejected in terms. It is only since 2005, when activist judges were acting in the case of Mamatkulov and Askarov v Turkey, that the court has given itself a power ultra vires to the original convention—an important point enunciated previously by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friend Lord Sandhurst.

The clause that amendments today seek to strike down, eviscerate and render otiose is not an example of arbitrary power but a specific power for this Bill and a set of unprecedented geopolitical and economic circumstances: mass migration. It is not a blanket disregard but a specific power. In summary, Rule 39 rules were never part of the European convention or constitution and there is no evidence, other than the hyperbole in this Chamber, that the UK not being bound by these interim measures undermines our overall compliance with international law and our international obligations, responsibilities or undertakings. The irony of these amendments is that they lock in the UK to adherence to a regime that even the court itself accepts is suboptimal and needs urgent reform. These amendments offer a carte blanche to a broken system.

The court itself does not work in its efficacy and the power to produce a desired result, with 48% of leading judgments being unaltered and not acted upon in the past 10 years across all 46 members of the convention. We have a failing, politicised, secret and unreformed court that some noble Lords wish to legislate to usurp the sovereignty of our Parliament. For these and other reasons, I ask your Lordships to resist these amendments because they are not only consequential but dangerous.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I will be brief. I follow my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in supporting these amendments. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, that yesterday was the 78th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech in Missouri; it was entitled Sinews of Peace and it dealt with issues such as the Iron Curtain coming down across the Europe, and why Winston Churchill believed we needed a convention on human rights and supported the creation of the Council of Europe as the best buttress—alliances based on the rule of law—to preserve the peace of Europe and the world.

In the troubled times in which we live—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to the debate on these things in your Lordships’ House yesterday—the upholding of the rule of law, especially in the face of all that Putin’s Russia is doing in Ukraine, is paramount—

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Ceidwadwyr 5:45, 6 Mawrth 2024

The noble Lord has a proud and long-standing record of defending human and civil rights, which we all support and congratulate him on. However, does he not agree that a system in which you have an unnamed foreign judge in an international court imposing a late-night judgment, and which allows the UK no opportunity to give its own evidence or respond, or understand the evidence against it, is surely not an example of due process or, more importantly, the rule of law?

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I disagree with the noble Lord; the amendments are about interim measures. The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, took evidence on this issue and I want to refer to that for a moment. Having heard the evidence, these were the conclusions of a committee of the sovereign British Parliament. In paragraph 105, we said:

“We recognise that there are differences of opinion over whether or not interim measures ought to be binding on the United Kingdom. However, as a matter of international law, they are binding. Failing to comply with interim measures directed at the UK would amount to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

On Clause 5, we said that the Bill

“contemplates a Minister choosing not to comply with an interim measure and thus violating the UK’s international human rights obligations. It also prevents the domestic courts taking into account what may be a relevant factor for any decision whether or not an individual should be removed to Rwanda. This is not consistent with a commitment to complying with the UK’s obligations under the ECHR”.

That was the committee’s considered, majority view; it is not a view that has been responded to by the Government. Here I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, or the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, when they come to reply, to go back to the Committee stage of this Bill, where they gave an assurance that, before we went any further, Parliament would be told the response to the findings of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As recently as Monday, I was told when I intervened on this point that there would be a response for today; I would like to know when it is going to be forthcoming.

It brings our Parliament into disrepute when we set up Joint Committees and say we will consider issues of this kind in great detail, and when reports have been made available to the Government, but no response has been forthcoming before detailed consideration of that legislation. Here we are, at the Report stage of a Bill that has gone all the way through the House of Commons, has almost completed its passage in your Lordships’ House, and we still have no proper response. When the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, defended, as he did earlier, the integrity and the nature of our Select Committee, I was with him, and not just because, like him, I have particular admiration for the chairs of Select Committees. The honourable Joanna Cherry is no exception in this respect. She is an admirable chair of that committee; she is not a partisan—ask members of the Scottish National Party and they will tell you that she is a very independent-minded lady who has considerable experience as a KC in the law, so chairs are not to be dismissed. These committees of your Lordships’ House should be taken far more seriously. Not to do so is a discourtesy to Parliament and to the kind of arguments that my noble and learned friend has put forward, and it is why, even if these amendments are not voted on today, the principles that underline them should be supported.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated

My Lords, I promise I will be brief. First, there appears to be agreement that there was not total agreement on the position of international law. Noble Lords will remember the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffman, referring to the article in Policy Exchange. This is not the time to repeat the arguments, one way or another.

It was also agreed that the procedure adopted by the European Court of Human Rights was sub-optimal and there is room for improvement. Improvement may come along the line in due course; we wait to see, and there are some hopeful signs. However, the current position is that it is not a satisfactory procedure.

We then come down to the power. It is important to stress that the Minister has a power, not a duty, which he or she can exercise to ignore the ruling. The Minister does not have to ignore the ruling, and no doubt they will look carefully at the reasons given. Amendment 37 suggests that the Minister will consult the Attorney-General, who I am glad to see sitting in her place beneath the Throne today. I imagine that in a normal course of events, a Minister taking a decision of that gravity would consult the Attorney-General. However, the fact that there is a slender basis for the jurisdiction, that the interim procedure is unsatisfactory, and that there is a power, seem to me to hedge around this provision with appropriate safeguards.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group and will be sorry if, as I suspect may be the case, none of them is put to the vote.

I spoke in Committee on the status of interim measures of the European Court in international law. I will not repeat any of that now, although I remind the Minister, as I did informally a moment ago, of the exchange we had at the end of that debate, at about 10.30 pm on 19 February. I asked him whether he agreed with me that if a Minister decided not to comply with an interim measure, as Clause 5 permits, this would place the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations. He gave me no answer—and frankly accepted that he was giving me no answer—but did undertake to write to me. The Minister did tell me a moment ago that such a letter has been sent, but I am afraid that, despite his best efforts, it has not yet reached me. Will he please be kind enough to read the relevant passage when he answers this debate?

The European Court of Human Rights takes one view, which is generally accepted to be binding on contracting states—including our own—by Article 32 of the ECHR. In brief reference to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—I thank him for the courtesy he extended to me earlier in today’s debates—the binding effect of interim measures rulings was clearly accepted in this case by the French Conseil d’Etat, in its judgment of 7 December 2023. I know the noble Lord is very conversant with the French language; if he reads paragraph 5 of that judgment, he will be left in no doubt as to the relevant position.

If, as the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, suggested, the French Government are flouting both the interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights and the judgment of their own highest court, shame on the French Government. Shame on any Government who behave like this. We are used to seeing the Russian Government, the former Government in Poland, behave like this, and we have to make up our mind which camp we are in. That is why it is so important that we understand what the Government’s position is before we vote on the Bill. Is the purpose of Article 5 to permit Ministers to involve this country in breaches of international law, or is it not? I hope that this time, we will have some clarity from the Front Bench.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, as the House will know, I tend not to want lawyers to have it all their own way when they are dealing with legal issues, but I rise because it seems to me that this is an occasion to point to the fundamental problem the Bill presents. It asks Britain, which is absolutely dependent on international law, as we found in our debate yesterday, to present a situation which, at its very best, looks like flouting international law. The previous speech, by my fellow Ipswichian, is germane to this. I want to bring it back to this key issue. Those who objected to the European Union and our membership really cannot come to this House and say, “Because the French are doing it, we ought to copy them”. That seems to me to be a very curious position.

This brings us to a very crucial issue about this House. Earlier on, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, rightly said that the Government have addressed the world to say that whatever we say, they have no intention of changing the Bill. That is unacceptable. It is an insult to the House, and it is constitutionally improper.

However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the Opposition also have a responsibility in this. We all know that, so far, the Opposition are not prepared to pick one of these amendments, which are about our acceptance of international law, and to press it to the point at which the Government have to give way or lose the Bill. I say to the Opposition that the responsibility of opposition is as great as the responsibility of government. In the hands of the Opposition is the ability to make this Government turn the Bill into one that conforms with international law. If they do not do that, they will have failed in their duty and in the way they treat this House.

As the Opposition may become the Government, this, in my view, undermines their position, because the world knows why they do not want to do it: for electoral reasons. I find that unacceptable in the party I support; I find it just as unacceptable in the party with which I disagree.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, on that last remark, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. That is why, of course, we established our position clearly on Second Reading. We did it as a matter of principle and we stand by that principle. We will keep by that principle, and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the Bill, as bad as it really is, is put right.

I want to say how much I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I wish he would push this amendment to a vote, because we would certainly support it. I always like encouraging people to do things they are perhaps slightly resistant to doing. Essentially, this is a matter of great importance to us. We are part of this court. We helped to set it up, and the judges within it are British judges. We know very well that this is at the root of the issue. Yesterday, we were told that it is the backstop—

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Ceidwadwyr

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—this is not the time to go back over the arguments we previously had. However, will the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not accept that the one ground on which they cannot rely in support of their arguments is what Winston Churchill and the founding fathers of the convention said? They specifically considered whether the court should have the right to make an interim ruling, and they decided that it should not have that right.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I deal with matters which are within my lifespan, I am afraid. It is certainly the case that the court—at present, the ECHR—operates on the basis of the decisions taken jointly by the range of countries within it. That is where we stand. We are being asked, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, just said, to give permission to the Government to flout the legislation of which we have been a part, and the court of which we have been a part in making it.

Let us look very briefly at our record. The United Kingdom has always complied with Rule 39 interim measures and has publicly declared the need for other states to comply with them. In 2023, the court received 61 requests to make an emergency intervention against the United Kingdom, only one of which was granted as a genuinely necessary intervention. In 2021, it was the United Kingdom that urged Moscow to comply with one of the court’s Rule 39 orders, demanding the release of the now deceased jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny—which was absolutely the right thing to do. Last year, another order helped to save the lives of two British fighters in Ukraine who had been taken captive by Russian forces. Those measures are important to us. We stand by them, and giving permission to the Government to ignore them runs counter to the principles under which we operate.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:00, 6 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I will speak briefly to perhaps the least contentious amendment in this group, Amendment 37, in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker. It would simply ensure another level of scrutiny and security when deciding whether to comply with an interim measure by ensuring that the Minister must consult with the Attorney-General. It is a very modest and common-sense measure to help ensure that decisions are made with input from across government. The Government must understand that what they are proposing in the Bill distances us from our domestic and international obligations—obligations we expect others to follow, as we have heard many times in this short debate. This House voted on Monday to ensure that we respect domestic and international law, and it is in this spirit that we tabled Amendment 37.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, admonished us, the Opposition, by saying that we did not want to kill the Bill, in effect, for electoral reasons—that is what he accused us of. It is not for electoral reasons; it is because we recognise the status of this House as an unelected Chamber relative to the House of Commons. We expect to be in government in a few months’ time and we expect the Conservative Party to observe the same conventions that we are observing now—and we are quite unapologetic about that.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Ceidwadwyr

I point out that the noble Lord did not quote me correctly. I did not say that he should kill the Bill; I said that the Opposition were in a position to insist that the Government change the Bill so that it is in accordance with international law. That would not kill the Bill. I do not want to kill it; I want to improve it. The point that I make to the noble Lord is simply this: if he is saying that there is no situation in which the constitution of this country cannot be upheld by this House, he is saying something entirely novel. The fact is that this House has always seen itself as being the protector of the constitution—and what more important protection is there than to insist that the Government obey international law?

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, as I said, Amendment 37 puts the ball in the court of the Attorney-General; it is for her to make the decision and recommendation to the Government about the propriety of the interim measures. This is the most modest of the amendments in this group—and I do not know whether other noble Lords will be pressing their amendments.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I am again grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, opened by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. He acknowledged that we had enjoyed a full debate on the topic in Committee, in which conflicting views on certain essential matters emerged.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, repeated the view he expressed earlier that the practice in relation to the Rule 39 interim indications of the European Court of Human Rights is suboptimal. But he also indicated that there are hopes that the procedure might shortly be improved.

Amendment 36 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, would allow a court or tribunal to have regard to a Rule 39 interim measure when considering whether to issue interim relief. But there is an equivalent domestic remedy in Clause 4, which means that there should be no need for the Strasbourg court to intervene. The decisions of the United Kingdom’s domestic courts to issue interim relief should be made only when they have reached their own conclusion about whether a person is at risk of “serious and irreversible harm”, and not when the European Court of Human Rights has indicated an interim measure.

“Serious and irreversible harm” is broadly the same test that the Strasbourg court applies; there is no reason why our domestic courts cannot be relied on to reach their own decision, rather than having regard to another court that may not be in possession of the most up to date information in the case. We have been clear that one of the primary purposes of the Bill is to reduce the number of legal challenges that seek to frustrate or delay relocations to Rwanda. We also need to create a deterrent and make it clear that those arriving via small boats will not be able to stay.

My noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough made a number of important points on judicial activism and the contrast between the rule of law and the rule of lawyers. Ultimately, if I may summarise his position, it comes down to an assertation of the accountability, of which we have spoken, introduced into our counsels by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne at an early stage. That is an important consideration for the House to bear in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, referenced Churchill. Again, if I may put words into my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough’s mouth, I suppose that my noble friend’s point is that these times are not Churchill’s times. He spoke of the geopolitical challenge and the nature of the difficulties that illegal migration is causing to this country.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is not in her place. None the less—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

Oh, she is. Well, while she did not press the point again, there was none the less a Green-wedge approach, which included my noble friend Lord Deben, attacking the stance of the Opposition Front Bench. Noble Lords opposite are old enough and ugly enough to defend themselves, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, did so. On the aspects of my noble friend’s submission that attacked the Government, I say to him that his point is misguided. Of course, the French Government are not the European Union; they are acting in this context as a sovereign country and not as a member of the EU.

As I said, “serious and irreversible harm” is broadly the same test that the Supreme Court applies. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, went on to raise a matter in relation to the Constitutional Reform Act. This Bill takes the same approach adopted in Section 55 of the Illegal Migration Act; the Constitutional Reform Act is not referenced in the Illegal Migration Act. Under both provisions, it is for a Minister of the Crown alone, and not a court, to decide whether to comply with an interim measure. That reflects the orthodox position that international obligations act on the Government, rather than having effect on the domestic plane. It does not constitute an attack on judicial independence. There is no implied reform of Section 3 of the 2005 Act, which makes provision for the upholding of judicial independence. This provision remains intact and it is not necessary for legislation that does not bind judicial decision-making to spell that out. The judiciary’s independence is a fundamental principle of our constitution, as I think all noble Lords across the House will agree. The Government are committed to enabling judicial decisions to be made independently and impartially, whether domestically or in relevant international courts and tribunals.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and gratefully acknowledge his courtesy in approaching me to chase up the correspondence to which he referred the House. I apologise that the Home Office carrier pigeon failed to reach Ipswich before today. I have a copy of the letter that he sought and, with his leave, and that of the House, I will read the relevant provision.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point about carrier pigeons, can he say when the response from the Government to the Joint Committee’s report on this Bill will be forthcoming, given that on Monday we were told that it would be here for the proceedings today?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord’s question is “imminently”.

Returning to the correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I quote from that letter that bears my signature and which I trust that he will see in due course. He asked whether the Government agree that if, in compliance with Clause 5, a Minister decides not to comply with an interim measure, that would place the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations. Clause 5 provides that it is for a Minister only to decide whether the United Kingdom will comply with an interim measure indicated by the European Court of Human Rights in proceedings relating to the intended removal of a person to the Republic of Rwanda under, or purportedly under, a provision of or made under the Immigration Acts. The Bill is in line with international law. The Government take their international obligations, including under the ECHR, very seriously, and there is nothing in the clause that requires the United Kingdom to breach its international obligations. In any event, it is not correct that a failure to comply with interim measures automatically involves a breach of international law. There are circumstances where non-compliance with an interim measure is not in breach of international law. There follows a list of further addressees whom I hope will receive the letter presently.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I am very grateful to the Minister. I recall that, of the Grand Chamber in Mamatkulov, 13 of the 14 judges in the majority thought that there were no circumstances in which a failure to comply with interim measures could be in accordance with international law. The 14th expressed the view that the Minister has just expressed. Can the Minister indicate in what cases it is lawful under international law not to comply with interim measures issued by the court?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

It would be in circumstances where compliance is not possible.

Turning to Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, the text that the Minister read out placed a great deal of importance on the phrase “does not require” a Minister to do something. However, it does empower a Minister to do it. Would what it empowers the Minister to do not be in breach of our international obligations?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I now turn to Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I do not wish to prolong things, but so we can be completely clear, is the Minister accepting that in circumstances where the Strasbourg court has made an order and it is possible for the United Kingdom to comply with that order, then the United Kingdom will be in breach of its obligations if the Minister decides not to comply with it? That is what I take from what he has just said.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, as I said, the Bill is in line with international law. It is not correct that a failure to comply with interim measures automatically involves a breach of international law.

Turning to Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in making a decision about whether to comply with a Rule 39 interim measure, the Government expect that the Minister will carefully consider what is required to comply with the United Kingdom’s international obligations. That decision ultimately will be dependent on the individual facts of each case. As I set out in Committee, nothing within Clause 5 prevents Ministers from consulting Cabinet colleagues or seeking advice where appropriate. Given the importance of this decision, we would expect a Minister to do so. However, this is a decision for Ministers. Amendment 37, which introduces a requirement to consult the Attorney-General, is therefore not necessary.

Furthermore, specifying in a Bill that the Attorney-General must be consulted before a decision is made undermines the convention that relates to the law officers. This is a long-standing convention whereby advice received from the law officers is not disclosed outside government. It is also the convention not to disclose whether the opinion of the law officers has been sought.

It is essential that we take bold steps to stop illegal migration and to prevent removal being frustrated by a cycle of legal challenges and rulings by the court. Clause 5 puts beyond doubt that the decision on whether to comply with a Rule 39 interim measure is for a Minister of the Crown. Given the importance of this decision, we are clear in the Bill that this decision must be taken personally by a Minister of the Crown. The Minister will be accountable—that word again, which I make no apology for stressing—to Parliament for the exercise of that personal discretion. We have made clear on several occasions, including in my rehearsal of the text to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, that the Government take their international obligations very seriously. There is nothing in this clause that requires the Government to act in breach of international law.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur 6:15, 6 Mawrth 2024

Can we then take it from what the Minister has said that, if the Government, after taking appropriate legal advice that they choose to take, take the view that not to comply with a Rule 39 order would in the circumstances then prevailing put the Government in breach of international law, the Government would then comply with that order?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

The point is that Rule 39 interim measures are not final judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which do bind the United Kingdom. They are not binding on the United Kingdom domestic courts. When deciding whether to comply with an interim measure indicated by the Strasbourg court, due consideration will be given to the facts in the individual case and careful consideration of the United Kingdom’s international obligations.

As we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in opening, Amendment 38, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, would remove Clause 5 and disapply Section 55 of the Illegal Migration Act. This would lead to a conflict between the duty to remove, established by the Illegal Migration Act, and the effect of an interim measure issued by the Strasbourg court, which in turn would create uncertainty as to which would prevail. Clause 4 includes a specific provision enabling the United Kingdom courts to grant an interim remedy preventing removal to Rwanda where they are satisfied that a person would face real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm. We have designed these measures to ensure that our courts are not out of step with the Strasbourg court.

As I have said already, there is no reason why the United Kingdom courts, which we would expect to be in possession of all the evidence and facts in the case when making such a decision, cannot be relied upon to reach their own decision rather than having regard to another court which may not have the most up-to-date information. I acknowledge that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is not pressing his amendment, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, not to move his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords from all sides of the House, whatever their views may have been, for contributing to this debate. The result has been a much more interesting discussion than I anticipated in my rather brief and somewhat lame introduction to my amendment.

I shall make only one point. My amendment is concerned with the position of our own courts. As Clause 5(3) stands, it prohibits our courts from having any regard to an interim measure when considering an application which relates to a decision to remove someone to Rwanda. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is quite right when he says that the current procedures under Rule 39 are suboptimal. There are various defects which we would not accept in our courts, but that does not apply to our procedures. They are perfectly open, proper and thorough. Our judges would be able to take on board all the points that have been made in the course of the discussion and weigh up one way or another whether this measure from the European Court of Human Rights should be given effect to. I am not asking that they should be bound to give effect to it but that they should be permitted to do so. It seems to be a perfectly reasonable thing to ask our courts to do.

I have considered whether I should press this to a vote, but we have to ration ourselves at this stage of our proceedings and have regard to what happens next. If this goes down to the House of Commons, no doubt it will bounce back again and so on. We have to be careful how far we press things to a Division; I would have liked to do so, but at some points one has to exercise self-restraint, which I am doing.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

Does the noble and learned Lord take comfort, as I do, and perhaps some people watching these proceedings might do, by recalling that on Monday we agreed to an amendment that requires this Bill—this Act, as it will become—to comply with international law when it is implemented?

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

That is a perfectly fair point to make; there are other amendments we have passed that carry us a long way indeed, whereas this one is rather more particular. For various reasons, without elaborating further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

Amendments 37 and 38 not moved.

Amendment 39 not moved.