Legislative changes to allow resumption of returns to UK, following High Court ruling on designating UK a safe third country

16 May 2024


On Friday 22 March, the High Court ruled that Ireland’s designation of the United Kingdom (UK) as a safe third country is not compliant with EU law.

A safe third country is a country to which international protection applicants can be returned to for processing their application, if it is considered that the applicant has a genuine connection to that country. A third country can only be designated as safe where it is accepted that the country will treat a person seeking international protection in accordance with accepted international standards including the principle of non-refoulement, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the standards of protection set out in the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol.

The UK was designated by Ireland as a safe country on 31 December 2020. The High Court case concerned the lawfulness of how Ireland designated the UK as a safe third country under Section 72A of the International Protection Act 2015. In the judgment, it was found that the legal basis of the designation was flawed because there was a gap between legislation set out in the International Protection Act and the EU legislation relevant to the cases at hand. Specifically the national legislation failed to require the Minister to be satisfied that a person would not be subjected to serious harm if returned to the UK, which is a requirement under the EU law. This was one of a number of cases taken by individuals challenging their return to the UK and taken following the resumption of removals, which had been largely suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic. Read a more detailed summary of the judgment here on our legal resources page.

More recently, on 30 April 2024, the Minister for Justice obtained Cabinet approval to progress legislative changes to allow the resumption of returns to the UK. The proposed amendments will include a provision to be added to the International Protection Act that will require consideration of serious harm to take place under the relevant sections of the Act. It will also allow for family and private life rights to be considered in the context of issuing a return order.

EMN Ireland has recently updated its legal resources page which you can browse here.

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