Immigration enforcement officers had been granted the power to enter business premises without a search warrant in nearly two-thirds of cases (59%) despite not providing the required justification. There was also widespread non-compliance with the Home Office’s own guidance in relation to use of this power and a lack of management oversight. These were among the findings in the Chief Inspector’s inspection report on the use of the power to enter business premises without a search warrant.
In certain circumstances Home Office enforcement officers investigating immigration offences can enter business premises and make arrests without the need for a search warrant. This power under Section 28CA of the Immigration Act 1971 is commonly referred to as an ‘AD letter’. The inspection focused on whether the power was exercised lawfully and effectively, in accordance with legislation and Home Office guidance.
Home Office guidance indicated that this power should typically only be used in cases where swift action was required, usually where there was an immediate threat of immigration offenders absconding. Where swift action was not necessary a search warrant should be sought. However, the average time between preparing the intelligence to support an enforcement operation and it actually taking place was 13 days. This meant that there was sufficient time to apply for a search warrant in most cases where the power was granted.
The Chief Inspector was also concerned to find:
• evidence that the power may have been used unlawfully in six cases, either because the authorising officer was not of the correct grade or because it was not used within the timeframe set out in legislation;
• management oversight regarding the use of this power was ineffective and no management information was collected. As a result senior managers had very limited knowledge about whether the power was being exercised lawfully and effectively;
• significant variations in the level of use of the power by enforcement teams across the country. For example in South London, the power was used in over two-thirds of its illegal working operations (69%), whereas East London only used it in 3% of its illegal working operations;
• in 13 cases (22%) the grounds for applying for this power did not provide sufficient information to reach the higher threshold of believing offenders to be on business premises;
• inadequate staff training was apparent across all enforcement grades, up to and including ADs.
During the course of our inspection, the Home Office moved quickly to address the issues that the Chief Inspector identified. This was positive and demonstrated that the Home Office was, for the first time, starting to exert a much stronger grip about how the power was used by its staff.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM said:
“My inspection focused on whether Home Office enforcement officers were using the power to enter business premises and make arrests without a search warrant appropriately. I was concerned to find widespread non-compliance with Home Office guidance in relation to the use of this power.
In almost two thirds of the cases I examined I disagreed with the decision made by an Assistant Director to authorise use of this power. In particular, I was very concerned to find six cases where the power appeared to have been used unlawfully.
Many of the issues I identified could have been detected through effective management oversight, but this had been completely lacking. It was also apparent that a significant number of staff and managers were either ignorant of the guidance or were choosing to ignore it.
However, during my inspection I found senior managers were introducing a range of measures to improve performance and compliance in this area.”
The Chief Inspector made four recommendations for improvement. These include the Home Office updating its guidance to provide greater clarity on the thresholds for using this power, and conducting a full evaluation within six months to ensure this power is being used appropriately.