The president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Síofra O’Leary, has warned the British Government this Thursday of its obligation to respect the orders issued by the Strasbourg court on asylum matters. O’Leary’s comments come in the wake of the Rwanda security bill, which the British Parliament plans to approve in the coming months, and which contemplates the possibility that the Government could disobey possible precautionary measures issued by international courts to start the deportations of immigrants who arrive in the country irregularly.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeated on several occasions that he is willing to do “whatever it takes” to implement deportations, including disobeying ECHR rulings under Rule 39, which gives Strasbourg judges power to impose precautionary measures in exceptional circumstances and in the event that they detect “a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm.” A situation that already occurred in June 2022, when the Government of the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was forced to cancel at the last minute a first deportation flight for asylum seekers bound for Kigali.

“There is a clear legal obligation (under the European Convention on Human Rights) for States to comply with the measures of Rule 39,” O’Leary said at a press conference, before recalling that The United Kingdom has supported this standard on multiple occasions, as when the ECtHR used it to demand that Russia release the opponent Alexei Navalny in 2021. “The United Kingdom has always complied with the measures of Rule 39, which date back to the 1950s,” said the judge, who has however avoided commenting specifically on the bill on deportations to Rwanda. “I know there is a very healthy debate in the UK about this issue,” she simply said.

Parliamentary processing

The British Government insists that it has created the necessary legal framework to avoid new legal challenges, after the Supreme Court struck down deportation plans, considering that there is a risk of Rwanda returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin, putting their lives in danger. “We are confident that our legislation meets our international obligations. We are clear that the bill and the treaty (signed with Rwanda) respond to the concerns of the Supreme Court. It should not be necessary for Strasbourg to intervene to block flights in the way it did in 2022,” said a spokesperson for the Executive.

Sunak is confident that Parliament will definitively approve the new bill to launch deportations as soon as possible, aware of the need to achieve this objective before the elections, scheduled for the end of this year. The text received the approval of the deputies of the House of Commons last week, despite the rejection of some hard-line members, and will be debated in the House of Lords until mid-March.