MacGregor Review Into Consular Services Recommends Improvements
Following a series of Parliamentary Questions (and associated Freedom of Information Act requests) the Government has finally published a “Review of Complex Consular Cases” prepared by Dame Judith MacGregor in June 2019.
REDRESS welcomes the findings and recommendations of the Review, and the response of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on 19 November 2020 in which the responsible Minister commits the FCDO to implement the following:
- “improvements to the way the FCDO recognises and escalates sensitive consular cases.
- establishment of Task Forces for highly complex cases.
- increased briefing of Ministers about complex cases: with cases where there is a significant risk of torture, mistreatment or a failure of due process raised urgently.
- more senior oversight of the support to families in complex cases to build more trust and understanding.
- a new communication strategy to set out more openly the FCDO’s consular work.
- data management improvements to ensure lessons are learnt.”
The MacGregor Review follows REDRESS’s own report on consular protection in 2018, Beyond Discretion, in which we made a series of recommendations to improve the way that the UK Government can protect and defend the rights and welfare of incarcerated citizens overseas.
In Beyond Discretion, REDRESS said that the FCDO should:
Commit to taking a more proactive approach to identifying and intervening in cases where a British (or dual) national is facing serious human rights violations. All breaches of international human rights law should result in vigorous complaints where the detainee consents. While each case should be considered individually, as a matter of principle, persistent breaches of human rights law should not go unchallenged, and strategies should be geared towards achieving the desired result – ending the violation of the (dual) national’s human rights. [Recommendations, page 2]
The MacGregor Review echoes those concerns by recommending that Ministers are more involved in complex cases, and that such cases are then “raised urgently at the most senior levels” of the State concerned “where there is a significant risk of torture/mistreatment or a failure of due process when assessed against international human rights norms” (para. 21(v)). It also recommends that the FCDO should give “due priority to cases of extreme complexity and the interconnection with its rule of law/human rights promotion” (para. 21(iii)).
Likewise, in Beyond Discretion, REDRESS identified that “a lack of clarity from the Public Guidance as to how and what action the [FCDO] will take on behalf of its citizens detained abroad and under what circumstances, combined with a lack of consistency and different approaches taken in different cases often makes it difficult for families to know what to ask for in meetings with the FCO” (page 49). We recommended that the FCDO should:
Publish the entire Internal Guidance Documents for consular officials on consular assistance and develop clear criteria for a transparent exercise of consular assistance. [Recommendations, page 2]
We are encouraged that the MacGregor Review echoes those concerns by recommending that the FCDO devise “a new communication and soft power strategy to set out more openly the FCO’s work on consular cases” (para. 21(vii)). We expect this to include much greater transparency in relation to its internal policies.
REDRESS is delighted that the MacGregor Review shares some of our analysis, and that the FCDO has committed to implement improvements of the kind that REDRESS has advocated for several years. We look forward to monitoring the FCDO’s implementation of its recommendations.
At the same time, REDRESS notes that some of its recommendations in Beyond Discretion remain contested by the FCDO, and are not tackled by the MacGregor Review, despite the fact that we believe that they too would contribute to improvements in the way that British nationals can be protected when in situations of great vulnerability, and their families supported. In particular, REDRESS is disappointed that the MacGregor Review, for example:
- Concluded that the provision of consular assistance should remain discretionary, contrary to our belief that there should be an enforceable right to consular protection in certain circumstances;.
- Did not discuss the use of ‘diplomatic protection’;
- Did not consider the possible litigation of cases before the International Court of Justice (or other relevant fora) in relation to breaches of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations;
- Did not recognise the importance of FCDO support for British nationals who have suffered human rights violations abroad, in their quest for justice, including reparation.
The Review was requested by the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and was directed at examining the “policy and handling of complex Consular Cases”, focusing particularly on the balance between the needs of affected individuals and the “broader bilateral relationship” with relevant States, and the way the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (now the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)) liaises with families.
Dame Judith MacGregor is a former Head of Mission in the Diplomatic Service, having held posts as an Ambassador (in Slovakia and Mexico) and High Commissioner (in South Africa).
The MacGregor Review, along with the letter dated 19 November 2020 from the responsible Minister, Nigel Adams MP, to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, are available here.