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The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has been cautioned that the UK government risks violating European human rights law if it dismisses emergency court orders designed to halt the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda. Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staunch commitment to resisting interference from “foreign courts,” concerns have been raised regarding the potential breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The current legislative process involves the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which grants ministers the authority to determine whether to comply with interim rulings issued by the European Court of Human Rights. However, the President of the Strasbourg court, Siofra O’Leary, has underscored the “clear legal obligation” under the ECHR for states to adhere to Rule 39 interim measures, aimed at preventing irreparable harm, reported The Independent.

Downing Street contends that the Rwanda legislation aligns with international law and could preclude Strasbourg’s intervention. The bill aims to address legal challenges associated with the deportation scheme, granting ministers the power to ignore such interim rulings. Notably, Rule 39 measures, colloquially termed “pajama injunctions,” played a role in thwarting a 2022 flight carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Ms. O’Leary emphasized that Rule 39 measures are only issued in “exceptional circumstances where there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm.” Non-compliance with such measures has previously led to violations of ECHR obligations. The UK has historically complied with Rule 39, except in rare cases, reinforcing the importance of adherence to international legal standards.

While refraining from direct commentary on the Safety of Rwanda Bill’s ongoing parliamentary process, Ms. O’Leary acknowledged the robust debate in the UK, expressing confidence that the nation, blessed with legal expertise and an active civil society, would thoroughly examine the issues at hand.

The President of the Strasbourg court refrained from detailed remarks on the bill, stating, “I know there’s a very healthy debate in the United Kingdom relating to the content of the Bill.” She acknowledged the country’s wealth of international legal experts and an active civil society, suggesting that the pertinent issues would be scrutinized comprehensively.

The context of the Rwanda case in June 2022, wherein an interim measure prevented the deportation of an Iraqi asylum seeker, highlights the urgency associated with Rule 39 measures, often sought in situations of extreme urgency.

The Rule 39 process, undergoing reform since December 2023, addresses criticisms and identifies the duty judge issuing interim measures. Despite assurances from the UK government that its legislation is compliant with international obligations, concerns persist about the potential need for Strasbourg’s intervention, echoing events from 2022. The government maintains its stance, asserting that foreign courts will not impede its plans while emphasizing distinctions between the UK’s policies and the situation involving Russia and Alexei Navalny.

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