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File image of Belfast High Court, where the ruling was delivered today Alamy Stock Photo
Belfast High Court

Court rules that UK law on sending asylum seekers to Rwanda should be disapplied in Northern Ireland

Mr Justice Humphreys said the Act would result in a diminution of rights enjoyed by asylum seekers in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement.


A JUDGE IN Northern Ireland has ruled that the law allowing the UK Government to detain and remove asylum seekers it deems to have arrived illegally should be disapplied there.   

In a judgment delivered at Belfast High Court today, Mr Justice Humphreys said the UK’s Illegal Migration Act undermines human rights protections guaranteed in the region under post-Brexit arrangements.

The Illegal Migration Act provides new powers for the UK Government to detain and remove asylum seekers it deems to have arrived illegally in the UK.

Central to the new laws is the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The court today ruled on two challenges against the Act that focused on human rights protections guaranteed by the Windsor Framework and compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The post-Brexit Windsor Framework jointly agreed by the UK and EU includes a stipulation that there can be no diminution of the rights provisions contained within Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement of 1998.

Mr Justice Humphreys found that several elements of the Act cause a “significant” diminution of the rights enjoyed by asylum seekers residing in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

“I have found that there is a relevant diminution of right in each of the areas relied upon by the applicants,” he said.

He added: “The applicants’ primary submission therefore succeeds. Each of the statutory provisions under consideration infringes the protection afforded to RSE (Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity) in the Good Friday Agreement.”

The judge ruled that the sections of the Act that were the subject of the legal challenges should be “disapplied” in Northern Ireland.

He also declared aspects of the Act incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

One of the cases was taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the other by a 16-year-old asylum seeker from Iran who is living in Northern Ireland having arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child.

The boy, who travelled from France by small boat and claimed asylum in July 2023, has said he would be killed or sent to prison if he returned to Iran.

The judge agreed to place a temporary stay on the disapplication ruling until another hearing at the end of May, when the applicants will have an opportunity to respond to the judgment.

Dr Tony McGleenan KC, representing the Government, indicated that an appeal may be considered.

“We’ll be taking our instructions on the judgment and the position in terms of any further litigation will become clear,” he said.

Outside court, solicitor Sinead Marmion, who represented the teenage Iranian asylum seeker applicant, said the judgment was “hugely significant”.

She said the judgment would prevent the Rwanda scheme applying in Northern Ireland.

“The Good Friday Agreement has always been a beacon of human rights protections and hope,” said Marmion.

She continued: “The Court, through the Northern Ireland Protocol, has ensured those rights apply to the whole community – including Asylum seekers.”

She added that the ruling “runs contrary to the negative and toxic rhetoric peddled by the UK government against those seeking international protection”.

Marmion said today’s judgment “sends a clear message to the UK Government” that asylum seekers will be welcome and legally protected in Northern Ireland.

She added: “Today marks the beginning of the end of the British Government’s flagship campaign to enact illegal and immoral laws with the sole purpose of frustrating and demolishing international human rights protections.”

Marmion is head of immigration and asylum at Phoenix Law and in a statement today, a spokesperson for the legal firm said the UK’s Illegal Migration Act “prevents individuals who arrive in a dangerous manner into the UK from ever being able to advance a claim for international protection”.

The spokesperson added that the High Court  in Belfast found that the Act results in a “diminution of rights” for the “whole of the community in Northern Ireland”.

The judgement has also been welcomed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which took on one of the cases.

A spokesperson said the Commission issued this legal challenge in its own name “due to the significant concerns it has with the Illegal Migration Act and the effect on asylum seekers in Northern Ireland”.

The spokesperson added that the Commission “will now be considering the judgment in full and its implications”.

Meanwhile, the interim leader of the DUP has said the UK Government must act to prevent Northern Ireland becoming a “magnet” for asylum seekers.

Gavin Robinson said the UK Government must not facilitate the creation of an “immigration border” in the Irish Sea, with different rules applying in Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

He added that it is “imperative” that “immigration policy applies equally across every part of the United Kingdom.

Robinson also insisted that his party had repeatedly warned the UK Government that its immigrations laws were incompatible with post-Brexit arrangements contained in the Windsor Framework.

Elsewhere, TUV leader Jim Allister claimed that this is “yet another humiliation and savaging of UK sovereignty as NI is again found to be an EU colony”.

He added: “Now we not only have a trade partitioning Irish Sea border, but now an immigration border too, leaving NI wide open as a magnet for asylum seekers.”

-With additional reporting from Press Association

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