North West Migrants Forum

NI Human Rights Commission begins legal challenge of Illegal Migration Act

Main photo: Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Alyson Kilpatrick.

THE North West Migrants Forum has welcomed a legal challenge being brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission against the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

The Act, which received Royal Assent in July, changed the law so that those who arrive in the UK irregularly will be detained and then removed, either to their home country or a third country.

During passage of the legislation through Parliament, the Commission advised that Government proposals were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards. It noted in particular a failure to protect some of the most vulnerable people including children, victims of human trafficking and exploitation.

The Commission also advised that the legislation was incompatible with obligations set out in Article 2 of the Windsor Framework. As part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, the UK Government is required to ensure that there is no diminution of certain human rights and equality protections contained within the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

Chief Commissioner of the NI Human Rights Commission, Alyson Kilpatrick, said the legal challenge had been brought in order to “protect and uphold fundamental rights”.

“We provided advice to Government during the Bill’s passage through Parliament that sought to amend the legislation and ensure compliance. Exercising our legal powers now is a measure of last resort, but a necessary step to protect those who are most vulnerable and prevent the violations of human rights that will undoubtedly follow if this law remains in place.

“We are concerned that the Act will effectively make it impossible for people who arrive in the UK irregularly to present as refugees. Displaced people often face perilous journeys and are denied access to fundamental rights while trying to find safe pathways to protection. Safe and legal routes of migration are rarely available. This law further denies them basic protections.

“The Act creates sweeping new detention powers with limited judicial oversight. Proposed removal of vulnerable people seeking refuge to a third country without a guarantee of them necessarily accessing protection is deeply problematic,” Ms Kilpatrick added.