The Nationality and Borders Bill threatens to create a two-tier asylum system which could result in more unsafe and perilous journeys, the Law Society of Scotland said today.

With the bill currently going through its committee stage in the House of Commons, the Society also criticised it for putting those who attempt to save the lives of asylum seekers at sea at risk of facing criminal charges for their action.

The bill would extend the existing criminal offence of helping an asylum seeker to the UK if it is done for gain, by removing the "for gain" element, which could open up anyone who has helped asylum seekers reach the UK to criminal charges. The Society has raised the question of how the proposals would impact on lifesaving organisations and ships' masters who save asylum seekers from drowning, as they are obliged to do under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Stuart McWilliams, convener of the Society's Immigration & Asylum Committee, commented: "No one should face a risk of committing an offence for rightly attempting to save people’s lives, and yet this would be one of the consequences of retaining the bill in its current form. This is particularly alarming given that the bill increases the already hefty maximum sentence of 14 years to life imprisonment for those found guilty.


He added: "MPs must also endeavour to avoid creating a two-tier system. The proposals differentiating between types of refugee based on how they arrived in the UK have already been criticised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who has said it would undermine the 50 year-old Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues...

"We take the view that how a person enters the UK should not impact on family reunion. Safe and legal routes have reduced since the UK left the EU and this provision appears to be further reducing the prospect of families using one of only the two safe and legal routes the asylum seeker has – that of refugee family reunion, along with UNHCR resettlement. Fewer safe and legal routes are likely to result in more unsafe and perilous journeys."

The Society supports aspects of the bill which resolve historical injustices, including removing the discriminatory inability for mothers and unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship, but states that the registration process for this should be free.

It also believes that nationality law should be amended to allow children born in the UK to become British citizens automatically, restoring a policy that applied before 1983.

Further, the Society has raised serious defects around the legislation's handling of citizenship of stateless minors, including the age range covered, and the failure to take into account the challenges that many parents have in evidencing the citizenship of their children.