Administrative and public law

Westminster weekly update: home secretary defends Rwanda processing policy

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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What you need to know

1. Home secretary defends Rwanda processing policy

The home secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday 15 June, regarding the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) last-minute injunctions to stop the first offshore processing flights.

In her statement to the house, Priti Patel said that it was an important point that the ECHR did not rule that the policy in itself was unlawful, but that it was still "disappointing" they had stopped the flights yesterday.

She went on to say that she is confident that the policy to deport these refugees to Rwanda is compliant with domestic and international obligations and that the government would push ahead with it.

She was met with criticism from all opposition parties.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper stated that the policy would not address the illegal gangs. The not dissimilar Israel-Rwanda policy had actually increased illegal gangs.

Repeated calls were also made for the government to desist with their attacks on lawyers and judges.

Stuart McDonald, Home Affairs spokesperson for the SNP, beseeched the home secretary to heed our call, with the Bar Council to stop attacks on the legal professionals who are “just doing their job”.

2. Northern Ireland Protocol Bill published

The government published its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on Monday 13 June.

The bill will:

  • provide the basis for the government to amend the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in UK domestic law
  • disapply elements of the protocol, and
  • provide delegated powers to ministers to make new law in connection with the protocol for specified “excluded provision”, including:
    • the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland
    • subsidy control, and
    • governance arrangements (limiting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice)

In its legal position, the government accepted that the bill passing would mean that they would not meet its obligations under international law. 

They argued that the socio-political conditions in Northern Ireland make it necessary to introduce the legislation in order to protect the government’s prior commitments and responsibilities under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

In response to the bill, on Wednesday 15 June, the European Commission announced that it had launched infringement proceedings against the UK “for breaking international law”.

We believe that the bill represents a direct challenge to the rule of law by breaking international law.

The bill could also threaten the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and risk a breakdown in relations between the EU and the UK, which could see a potential trade war with the EU.

A suspension of the TCA or increased trade barriers would be incredibly damaging for the legal profession in England and Wales.

We will continue to monitor the progress of the bill and brief MPs on its potential consequences to ensure our members’ ability to work across the EU is not impaired.

3. Lord chancellor to increase SRA fining powers

Last month, Labour MP Steve Reed tabled a written question asking the government to outline the actions it has taken to support the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in “ensuring compliance of solicitors’ firms with the government’s sanctions regime”.

Last week, justice minister James Cartlidge, responded to the question stating that lord chancellor Dominic Raab had personally intervened to push forward plans to increase the SRA’s fining powers, after MPs called for a toughening up of the regulator.

We made clear our concerns over the proposed increase clear to the Ministry of Justice.

We issued a statement noting our disappointment that the SRA is seeking to increase its fining powers by more than 1000% without balancing these changes with the appropriate safeguards.

We highlighted members’ concerns about the SRA acting as investigator, prosecutor, and judge, in potentially many more serious and significant cases, which currently go before the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Our president Stephanie Boyce said: “We are keen to continue close engagement with the SRA…providing insights of our members’ views and experiences to ensure the SRA’s proposals are informed by evidence, robustly impact assessed, fair and proportionate.”

Coming up

We'll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

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