Leading barristers claim that Priti Patel’s controversial borders bill ‘represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK’. A 95-page joint legal opinion piece written by four barristers – Raza Husain QC and Eleanor Mitchell at Matrix, Jason Pobjoy at Blackstone Chambersand Sarah Dobbie at 5 Essex Court – on behalf of the campaign group Freedom from Torture seeks to illustrate the unlawfulness of multiple aspects of the Bill.
The legal opinion explains that ‘the principle at the heart of the Bill is the penalisation, both criminally and administratively, of those who arrive by irregular means in the UK to claim asylum’, and the Bill seeks to ‘reverse a number of important decisions of the UK Courts…without offering any justification for doing so’.
Steve Crawshaw, the policy director of Freedom from Torture, stated ‘the opposition to the government’s latest attempt at cruel lawlessness is growing. Torture survivors and hundreds of groups across the country have come together in a bigger national coalition than ever seen before. We need to ensure that humanity and international law can still triumph.’
The lawyers detail seven reasons why the government’s stance of criminalising asylum seekers breaches international law, including that the idea that such persons should not be penalised is at the core of the 1951 Refugee Convention; the Bill attacks the fundamental principle in the Convention that refugees are entitled to some element of choice as to where they claim asylum; the basis of the government’s attack is that they should use safe legal routes – however there are no such routes available; and the government’s criticism is empirically unfounded as 65% of those who arrive other than through resettlement are granted asylum.
As reported recently, the Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to grant Border Force officers immunity from criminal prosecution if migrants die during new ‘turnback’ operations in the Channel. In addition to the strong opinion from the legal experts, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in the UK stated that the government’s new bill would ‘penalise most refugees seeking asylum in the country via damaging and unjustified penalties, creating an asylum model that undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices’.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK Representative commented on the Bill, stating ‘this Bill would undermine, not promote, the Government’s stated goal of improving protection for those at risk of persecution. It seems to be aimed at deterring refugees, but there’s no evidence that would be the result.’