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Committees raise concerns over Immigration Bill

In the past couple of weeks, two separate UK Parliamentary Committees have raised concerns over the Government’s proposed Immigration Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

Immigration Bill

The Bill was introduced by the Home Office in October last year, and proposes a number of major reforms to the UK’s immigration system, including:

  • Cutting the number of decisions that can be appealed from 17 to four and extending the number of non-suspensive appeals. Where there is no risk of serious irreversible harm, foreign criminals should be deported first and their appeals heard later, says the Home Office.
  • Ensuring the courts have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires when considering Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in immigration cases.
  • Restricting the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail if they have previously been refused it.
  • Clamping down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a sham marriage or civil partnership.

Rescinding citizenship

In its second Report on the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has expressed particular concern over the possible use of new powers contained in Clause 60 of the Bill, removing the restriction on the Secretary of State’s ability to rescind a naturalised British citizen’s UK citizenship if to do so would make him or her stateless.

The JCHR has questioned whether the real reason for allowing the Government this power is to enable it to exercise it in relation to naturalised British citizens while they are abroad. If so, this could lead to the UK being in breach of its international obligations to the country where the British citizen is located, says the Committee.

JCHR has therefore called for an amendment to the Bill to make it a precondition of the making of an order by the Secretary of State that the deprivation is compatible with the UK’s obligations under international law.

“The UK has historically been a champion of efforts to reduce statelessness throughout the world and it is disappointing to see this position shift in such a dramatic way,” explained Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. “The new power will lead to an increase in the number of stateless people and exposes British citizens to the risk of being left stateless.”

“As the Supreme Court recently said, statelessness is an “evil”: it takes away the right to have rights. The power does not in itself put the UK in breach of any of its international obligations in relation to statelessness but it does pose the risk of breaching our international obligations to other states,” he added.

Constitution Committee’s concerns

A separate report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee has raised its own concerns relating to Clause 60, as well as querying two other clauses of the Bill.

With regards to Clause 60, the Committee has raised a number of questions, including:

  • What would happen to citizens who are made stateless as regards their residence and right to services such as healthcare?
  • What would happen to their dependants?
  • Should decisions to remove citizenship be made by a court rather than the Secretary of State?

Implications for appeal rights

The second clause to concern the Constitution Committee is Clause 11, which relates to a “significant streamlining of appeal rights in respect of immigration decisions” by reducing the grounds on which appeals can be made against decisions of the Secretary of State.

According to the Committee, a high proportion of appeals (32% – 50%) are actually successful, and it therefore asks whether the proposed administrative review that would replace full Immigration and Asylum Tribunal appeals will be sufficient.

The final area of concern for the Constitution Committee is Clause 14, which it describes as a “constitutional innovation” in that it seeks to define what the public interest factors are in immigration decisions that engage Article 8 of the ECHR (private and family life). It points out that it is the role of the courts to balance the public interest against individual rights under Article 8.

“The Immigration Bill contains some important provisions, which may have a significant impact on the relationship between individuals and the state,” commented Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the Constitution Committee.

“A central element of the Bill is to give more discretion to the Secretary of State and reduce the role of the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal. This risks undermining the important right of appeal against immigration decisions. The current high rate of successful appeals suggests the Home Office’s own decisions in this area are by no means flawless,” she concluded.

Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v1.0.

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