UK legal basis for ‘turn around’ tactics in the Channel questioned by Lords committee
The Home Office’s so-called ‘turn around’ tactics in the English Channel have not been shown to have a clear legal basis, according to the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, published today, the committee expresses concerns around the legal basis for these turnarounds. The letter adds to growing concern both in and outside Parliament, including from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, by identifying key questions on the policy’s legal basis.
In an evidence session with the committee in October, the Home Secretary stated that “there is a legal basis” for the use of ‘turn around’ tactics. The letter asks under what powers the tactics could be used as the law stands currently.
The committee asks how the policy accords with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which confers a duty to render assistance to those in danger at sea. The letter highlights the vulnerability of people making the crossing – in overloaded, fragile boats and almost invariably “in danger at sea” – and asks how the ‘turn around’ tactics could be legal in that context.
The letter notes proposed provisions in the Nationality and Borders Bill which provide immunity to border officials “in the purported performance” of some enforcement functions. It asks for more details of when these clauses could be used – and when it would be reasonable for a border force official not to rescue an individual in distress at sea.
Baroness Hamwee, chair of the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee said: “Statements, including from the Home Secretary, are that there is a legal basis for the policy of so-called ‘turnarounds’. We question that.
“The so-called ‘turn around’ policy would force fragile small boats crossing the Channel to turn back. It is hard to imagine a situation in which those in them would not be in increased danger or where captains would not be obliged to render assistance.
“Instead, the Home Secretary has set a policy of forcing them to turn around. Even if there is a domestic legal basis, if it were actually implemented, it would almost certainly contravene the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Policing borders should be done in full accordance with the principles of national and international law, and we look forward to full engagement with our questions.”
The committee has requested a response from the Home Office by 5 January 2022.