The Crown Prosecution Service has announced migrants who steer dinghies across the English Channel with the sole intention of claiming asylum in port – will no longer be prosecuted.
The Home Office has labelled small-boat pilots as “people smugglers” and threatened to jail them for life, despite an official report finding organised crime group members are not on board. It has been pushing to criminalise Channel crossings after Priti Patel vowed to make the route “unviable,” which then saw record numbers attempting the crossing, with officials using drones in order to record and identify the people steering them.
Since last year, the offence of assisting unlawful migration, which was previously used against people smugglers such as lorry drivers who took substantial payment, has been controversially used to prosecute boat pilots. The change has seen 19 migrants who steered boats jailed for terms between 16 and 54 months.
New legal guidance released by the CPS earlier this week says:
“In cases involving the use of a boat where the sole intention is to be intercepted by Border Force at sea and brought into port for asylum claims to be made, no breach of immigration law will take place – the same applies where the intention is to sail the boat to a designated port of entry in order to claim asylum.”
The Home Office said that migrants could be prosecuted under a different law which has not yet been used in such cases – the offence of helping an asylum seeker to enter the UK – if they had steered a boat in return for payment or other “gain.”
Frank Ferguson, the CPS lead on immigration crime, said:
“We are confident the approach we have agreed today strikes a proportionate balance between deterring criminal gangs from attempting dangerous crossings and acting in the interests of justice and compassion.”