Handling of Suspected Offences at Port is Generally Effective but there’s Room for Improvement, says Chief Inspector

Immigration and customs offences detected at ports were dealt with in a largely consistent manner by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and Border Force (BF) but there is still room for improvement. These were the findings of the Independent Chief Inspector in his report, published today (24th January), into how the UKBA and BF handled suspected customs and immigration offences at ports.

Between April 2011 and February 2012, BF referred 2,885 suspected customs and immigration offences to the Agency’s Criminal and Financial Investigation (CFI) teams at ports. Of these, 1,315 (46%) were investigated with a view to criminal prosecution. The inspection examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the handling of such offences, with a particular focus on the work of the Agency’s CFI teams at Heathrow, Manchester Airport and Dover.

The Chief Inspector found that:

  •  the CFI teams adopted a generally consistent approach towards customs referrals from BF;
  • BF made appropriate use of their powers to confiscate goods and cash or issue fines;
  • decisions to investigate individuals involved in the importation of drugs, cash and other goods were in line with policy and in many cases supported by clear evidence;
  • removal generally proved to be an efficient and cost-effective alternative to criminal investigation and prosecution, where CFI teams decided not to investigate individuals for suspected immigration offences  and they did not claim asylum.

However, the Chief Inspector also noted that:

  • the policy of using swift removal immigration cases was not available in many instances because the individuals claimed asylum;
  • on some of these asylum claims it took almost a year to make initial decisions, well beyond the Agency’s six month target;
  • there was a lack of consensus on the circumstances in which certain immigration cases should be referred to CFI teams;
  • record-keeping on decisions not to investigate immigration offences was  inadequate and management information on the handling of offences generally needed improvement;
  • the Agency and BF’s file retention and retrieval processes were poor as they were only able to supply him with just over a third of the paper files he requested.

John Vine CBE QPM, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said:

 “I found a broadly consistent approach towards the investigation of offences. In immigration cases, I found that removal was a cost-effective and efficient alternative to investigation and prosecution where individuals did not claim asylum. However, swift removal was not available where individuals claimed asylum.

I found that the majority of individuals who were not investigated and claimed asylum on arrival in the UK were either granted refugee status or removed. Some, however, had waited for almost a year without initial decisions on their claims. This is unacceptable.

CFI teams kept an insufficient record of the reasons for the decisions they took in immigration cases. The management information collated by the Agency on the handling of offences was inadequate and of inconsistent quality across the ports I inspected.

I found a lack of consensus both within Border Force, and between Border Force staff and CFI managers, on the circumstances in which certain immigration offences should be referred for potential investigation. There is a need to clarify when such referrals should take place.

I was also disappointed that despite numerous recommendations made in previous reports, the Agency and Border Force failed to locate close to two-thirds files that I initially requested as part of this inspection. Both organisations must do more to improve their file retention and retrieval processes.”

The Chief Inspector made seven recommendations to the UKBA and BF. These include that the UKBA should ensure that decisions on whether or not to investigate suspected offences are clearly documented and ensure there is clear guidance or policy of when a re-referral of an immigration case to CFI teams should take place when, for example, an attempt to remove the person has failed.

You can download a PDF copy of the report here.

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