Rishi Sunak faces fresh blow over Rwanda as European judge claims plan is unlawful

25 January 2024, 16:05 | Updated: 25 January 2024, 16:18

Rishi Sunak has been warned he will be breaking European human rights law if he ignores emergency court orders
Rishi Sunak has been warned he will be breaking European human rights law if he ignores emergency court orders. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has faced a further blow over his Rwanda plan after a European judge said the scheme would breach international law.

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Siofra O'Leary, the Strasbourg court's president, warned the UK would be in breach of legal obligations if it does not comply with so-called Rule 39 interim measures.

The measure - branded a "pyjama injunction" by critics as it can be issued outside normal court hours - was behind the grounding of the first flight to Rwanda in June 2022.

But the PM has repeatedly vowed not to let "foreign courts" block the plan to send migrants to the African nation.

The Rwanda Bill going through Parliament states that it is up to ministers to decide whether or not to comply with interim rulings issued by judges in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

However, the Lords voted to delay the controversial legislation as "significant additional legal and practical steps are needed in order to implement the protections the treaty is designed to provide".

Downing Street has maintained that the bill complies with international law, suggesting Strasbourg had no need to intervene.

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Ms O'Leary said on Thursday that "there is a clear legal obligation" under the ECHR for states to comply with Rule 39 interim measures.

They are only issued "in exceptional circumstances where there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm", she said.

"The legal basis for this is principally Article 34 of the convention.

"In the past, where states have in the past failed to comply with Rule 39 indications, judges have found that the states have violated their obligations under Article 34 of the convention."

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The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We've set out our case very clearly.

"I think, firstly, we are confident our legislation is compliant with our international obligations. We're clear the Bill and the treaty address the Supreme Court's concerns.

"There should be no need for Strasbourg to intervene to block flights in the way they did in 2022.

"We've also drafted the Bill to give ministers the power not to comply with those rulings if necessary.

"And obviously every case is assessed on its individual facts, but the Prime Minister has been clear repeatedly that we will not let a foreign court block flights from taking off."

The spokesman added: "I think it would be bizarre to draw any comparison between Russia's cruel treatment of Alexei Navalny, who was a victim of an attempted assassination attempt, and our plan to protect and deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings across the Channel."