Lord Etherton (CB)
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 107 in my name, which relates to Clause 36 and provides that a refugee will have come directly to the United Kingdom for the purposes of Clause 11, notwithstanding that
“they have passed through the intermediate country on the refugee’s way to the United Kingdom by way of short-term stopover”.
Those words in the amendment reflect the reasoning and decision of the Administrative Court in Adimi, where my noble and learned friend Lord Brown presided. They also reflect the approval of Adimi by the Appellate Committee of this House in a case called Asfaw.
In this respect, Clause 36 is an important part of the Government’s policy. The reason for that is that it provides a definition of “directly” for the purposes of Clause 11 that makes a distinction between group 1 and group 2 refugees. Under the provisions of Clause 11, if the refugee does not come directly from the place of persecution, they inevitably cannot be in group 1.
Secondly, it is important because, as I pointed out in a previous debate on this Bill, the provisions for describing coming to the United Kingdom directly, as defined in Clause 36, also reflect the provision in the admissibility provision in Clause 15. Your Lordships will recall that, in Clause 15, if there is a connection with another state, the refugee’s claim is inadmissible; in fact, it is not recognised as a claim at all and there is no right of appeal. Clause 15 provides that, if you fall within one of the five conditions inserted in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 by the clause, you have a connection. One of those conditions, condition 4, is that
“the claimant was previously present in, and eligible to make a relevant claim to, the safe third State … it would have been reasonable to expect them to make such a claim, and … they failed to do so.”
So there are two essential elements of the policy behind the Government’s provisions for asylum, where the question of the meaning of coming “directly” is extremely important. I pointed out to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that there was a muddle here. If condition 4 in Clause 15, as I have described it, is satisfied, you never get to a distinction between group 1 and group 2 because your claim is inadmissible. The noble Baroness was going to look at that and let me know the position from the Government’s perspective, but I have not yet heard from her.
Before I address what coming “directly” means—as I said, my amendment reflects the reasoning and conclusion in Adimi, and the adoption of the decision in Adimi by the Appellate Committee of this House in Asfaw—I want to say a couple of things about what appears to be the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to interpretation. I do not think you need to be a lawyer to appreciate that if, under the aegis of the United Nations, you agree with other states in the world that you will conduct yourself in a particular way and that an agency of the United Nations has a responsibility for overseeing both the implementation of that agreement and that disputes between member states in relation to the meaning and the application of the agreement—here, the refugee convention—will be referred to an international court, there must be a point in time when one has to identify core values. If there are no core values, there is nothing to adjudicate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to Article 35, which requires member states to co-operate with the United Nations body responsible for oversight in relation to the implementation of the refugee convention. So what one has to do here is decide whether what the Government are doing in putting forward these proposals goes beyond the core principles in the refugee convention, which must be applicable generally to member states—otherwise, all the clauses I have referred to, Article 35, co-operation and adjudication by a court are totally meaningless and impracticable.
So I take issue with the broad statement of principle, as I understand it, put forward by the Minister. He said that it was perfectly acceptable for every member state signed up to the refugee convention to decide, from its perspective, what the convention meant. If that were correct and he was saying that it was for Parliament to decide what it meant for the United Kingdom, it would mean that changes could be made by each successive new Government as to what they felt would be appropriate to support their policy. Well, that is obviously nonsense, if I may respectfully say so.
What the courts have done—and this would be the approach of the all the courts of the countries signed up to the convention—is try to understand what the refugee convention was intended, by those who made it, to mean. The starting point is always the travaux préparatoires leading up to the convention—what was said and what was done—and then trying to understand whether there has been a deviation and, if so, why. That has been exactly the approach put forward and implemented in both Adimi and Asfaw.
The starting point, inevitably, for the interpretation of this particular convention is, as I think the Minister said, the Vienna convention on the interpretation of treaties. I do not think it has yet been said that we are entitled to change, and that we have changed, that treaty according to what we think it ought to say. It provides in Article 31.1:
“A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.”
That phrase, as has been noted by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I think, was applied by the UK’s highest court, the Supreme Court, in a case called ST (Eritrea) in 2012 as meaning that there is a duty to give the refugee convention
“a generous and purposive interpretation, bearing in mind its humanitarian objects and the broad aims reflected in its preamble”.
I have to say as a starting point that I have seen nothing so far in this part of the Bill which is a “generous and purposive interpretation”, having regard to humanitarian objects and the broad aims reflected in the preamble of the 1951 convention. Every provision that people have addressed appears to be, as it has been put, a mean-spirited approach to refugee applications.
It is against that background that I now turn to the meaning of “directly”. I have already referred to the clear decision in Adimi on this point about stopping at intermediate countries by way of short-term stopover. Just to give this a bit of flesh, what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, said then was:
“I am persuaded by the applicants’ contrary submission, drawing as it does on the travaux préparatoires, various Conclusions adopted by UNHCR’s executive committee … and the writings of well respected academics and commentators … that some element of choice is indeed open to refugees as to where they may properly claim asylum. I conclude that any merely short term stopover en route to such intended sanctuary cannot forfeit the protection of the Article, and that the main touchstones by which exclusion from protection should be judged are the length of stay in the intermediate country, the reasons for delaying there (even a substantial delay in an unsafe third country would be reasonable were the time spent trying to acquire the means of travelling on), and whether or not the refugee sought or found there protection de jure or de facto from the persecution they were fleeing.”