The Law Society of Scotland has highlighted serious failings in the Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill in advance of its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday, 29 January 2024.
The professional body for Scottish solicitors has called for amendments to the legislation to ensure its legal integrity, saying the Bill in its current form undermines the independence of the UK’s judiciary and risks breaching international law.
The proposed legislation is part of the UK Government’s response to the UK Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in November 2023 that the policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.
Law Society of Scotland President Sheila Webster said: “We expressed our grave concerns about aspects of this Bill before the turn of the year and as it progresses to the House of Lords, we have not seen any amendments which satisfy us as to the legal integrity of this legislation.
“The separation of powers is a key component of our democratic society. By sidelining the courts and proposing that the government alone makes fundamental decisions on whether to comply with interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights, this Bill serves to undermine the rule of law.
“This concern is compounded by the Minister’s inability to verify the Bill’s compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights in his accompanying statement.
“Despite the Supreme Court’s finding that Rwanda is not a safe country and the policy is therefore unlawful, the Bill obliges decision-makers to consider Rwanda just that, a safe country, an obligation which can only be changed by primary legislation.
“We call for the government to bring forward amendments to allow for any future changes in Rwanda’s internal stability or a breach of the UK-Rwanda Treaty, along with changes to those elements of the Bill which would disapply parts of UK human rights law and conflict with our requirement to comply with our international obligations.”
In its brief to Peers, the Law Society highlights that as the Rwanda policy was not in the UK Government’s 2019 manifesto, the Salisbury Convention, where members of the House of Lords do not vote down a Bill, would not apply.