The Recent Immigration Proposals and the Criminal Law

The Recent Immigration Proposals and the Criminal LawThe government recently announced a range of proposals regarding immigration, but how might these affect the criminal law?

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, announced the introduction of the most significant overhaul of the system in decades – the aim appears to be to prevent illegal entry into the UK, especially when people smugglers or trafficking is involved.

What are the proposals?


The announcement documentation suggests that the consideration of an asylum claim might be based on an individual’s need rather than their ability to pay people smugglers. In those circumstances how an individual arrives in the UK is likely to impact their claim and status in the UK if successful.

Modern slavery:

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 made provisions about slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking. The Act also introduced a defence for slavery or trafficking victims who commit an offence.

The government reports “an alarming increase” in the number of illegal migrants seeking modern slavery referrals. As a result, the Government is seeking to reform the system and consult on measures to distinguish “more effectively between genuine and vexatious accounts of modern slavery”. The impact on the criminal defence will remain to be seen.

County lines:

Numerous referrals a year are made in connection with exploitation linked to county lines. The Government is proposing to pilot of a new way to identify child victims of modern slavery. Again, this may impact the defence within the Modern Slavery Act.


There appears to be a suspicion that “unscrupulous” people are posing as children to gain entry. The Government has announced that the relevant agencies will use new scientific methods to assess age more accurately.

Age is also an important factor in the criminal justice system; anyone under 18 faces a different sentencing regime. This would impact any child wrongly assessed as being an adult.

Border Force enforcement powers:

Border Force will be given additional powers to search unaccompanied containers, seize and dispose of vessels and to redirect vessels away from the UK.


Those sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more, who constitute a danger to the UK community, can have their refugee status removed and be considered for deportation.

New criminal offences/sentences

“Tougher” criminal offences will be introduced for those who try to enter the UK illegally, along with a raised penalty for illegal entry.

The power to target those who facilitate illegal entry will also be widened. An example has been given as those who pilot the small boats used to cross the Channel. The power will include the ability to return vessels, and those on board, to the country where they started the journey, subject to agreement from that country.

The maximum penalty for facilitation will be increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. The penalty for foreign offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order will be increased from 6 months to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.

A consultation will also take place in respect of the Clandestine Entrant Civil Penalty Regime. This regime currently allows a maximum penalty of £2,000 for each person found on a vehicle which has not been adequately secured.

It is being suggested that the maximum penalty should be increased to encourage compliance and that a new offence should be introduced for failing to secure a vehicle.

How can we help?

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