ECHR: What is it, is the UK leaving and how has it impacted the Rwanda policy?

Could Rishi Sunak cut ties with the ECHR to get the Rwanda scheme off the ground? Credit: PA

By Rachel Dixon, ITV News Multimedia Producer

Rishi Sunak's pledge not to let a “foreign court” block deportation flights to Rwanda, has thrown the UK's place in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) into question.

He promised a new treaty with Rwanda and emergency legislation to ensure the government's policy to deport asylum seekers to the East African nation, would not be not blocked again, after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful on Wednesday.

But there's still a high likelihood this will be challenged by the ECHR, especially after it blocked the first flight which would have been sent under the policy in June 2022.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman and parts of the right of the Tory Party have put pressure on Mr Sunak to go against any potential ruling by the ECHR, prompting the prime minister to say he would do "what is necessary" to get the policy passed.

But this leads to the question — would the UK cut ties with the European Court of Human Rights to get its legislation through?

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand explains what Wednesday's ruling means for the government

What is the European Court of Human Rights?

The ECHR is an international court set up in 1959 to rule on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was originally proposed by Winston Churchill and British lawyers were involved in its formation.

European Court of Human Rights. Credit: AP

Its judgments are binding on the 46 Council of Europe member states that have ratified the Convention.

It is not a European Union institution and Brexit has not affected the UK’s relationship with the Strasbourg court or the convention.

How is European Court of Human Rights involved in the Rwanda policy?

The first deportation flight to Rwanda was cancelled just minutes before take-off following a ruling by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in June 2022

The first deportation flight to Rwanda was grounded amid a series of legal challenges. Credit: PA

Lawyers for an Iraqi asylum seeker, due on the flight, went to the ECHR, which issued an interim measure saying he should not be sent to Rwanda until a decision on the legality of the government’s policy had been reached in the domestic courts.

Would the UK undermine the European Court of Human Rights?

Following yesterday's ruling, Mr Sunak said he is “prepared to do what is necessary” if the ECHR intervenes “against the expressed wishes” of MPs.

Many ministers to the right of the Tory party, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, would support going against ECHR laws.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, she said: “The government must introduce emergency legislation.

“The Bill must block off ECHR, HRA, and other routes of legal challenge. This will give Parliament a clear choice: control illegal migration or explain to the British people why they should accept ever greater numbers of illegal arrivals settling here."

At a press conference, Mr Sunak said he was prepared to "revisit international relationships" if he faced challenges "from the European Court of Human Rights".

He added: “If the Strasbourg court chooses to intervene against the expressed wishes of Parliament, I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off. I will not take the easy way out."

It's not the first time the UK has considered moving away from the court.

The rising number of migrants crossing the channel has reportedly left senior ministers split over whether the UK should ditch its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins the country’s duty to help migrants.

In her cutting letter of departure, Ms Braverman claimed she had struck up a deal in which Mr Sunak said he would, among other things, put in measures to override ECHR legislation to stop small boat crossings, in exchange for her support in the Tory leadership.

She accused Mr Sunak of "a betrayal of our agreement" and of "a betrayal of your promise to the nation that you would do 'whatever it takes' to stop the boats".

Has anyone else left the European Convention of Human Rights?

While the government does not have plans to stop being a member, if the proposed new emergency treaty and legislation is blocked by the courts, Westminster may revisit its position, a Number 10 spokesperson told ITV News.

If the UK did leave, it would be following Greece, which left following a temporary military coup, and Russia.

On February 25, 2022, the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a committee of ministers met and agreed to suspend Russia from its rights to representation in the Council of Europe.

It then stopped being part of the ECHR on September 16, following the six month notice period for denunciation.

Speaking to the Guardian, in August, The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, said small boat crossings by asylum seekers “will not be tackled by leaving an extremely successful international agreement designed to protect individual rights and support political stability”.

Lubna Shuja, its president, said: "Leaving the ECHR would mean the UK would sit as an outlier in Europe, alongside only Russia and Belarus, who are already outside the convention."

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