The CPS is committed to prosecuting immigration crime to protect UK borders, and, in particular, to bring to justice those who exploit and facilitate the entry of illegal migrants. The CPS has clear and published policy guidance on the prosecution of immigration offences that reflects the memorandum of understanding agreed between the CPS and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
The offence of facilitating unlawful immigration has previously been used, quite rightly, to tackle smuggling gangs and traffickers, but in recent months the Crown Prosecution Service has started prosecuting refugees crossing the channel simply because they were the unlucky ones forced to steer the boat. As the chief inspector of borders has made clear, these people are victims of the gangs—they are not gang members—so why are they being prosecuted and put in prison, contrary to the spirit of UN protocols and the published CPS guidance?
The CPS has not changed its policy on prosecuting immigration offences. The joint approach between the CPS and Immigration Enforcement is to consider prosecution for anyone who has been involved in organising and planning these journeys—I emphasise, the organising and planning—together with those responsible for controlling the vessels. As always, every case has to be considered on its merits and on the facts, and decisions must be in line with the code in the usual way. Prosecutors have to be satisfied about that, and prosecutors understand their obligations.
The Solicitor General referred to prosecuting the people who control the vessels, but they are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) said, the victims of these gangs—not members of the gangs—so there has been a change in CPS policy and practice. If he wants to prove me wrong on that, will he publish the new note or guidance on this offence that I understand was issued to CPS lawyers last month, and will he also publish details of any representations made by the Home Office in the last 18 months in relation to this offence?
As I say, the policy is clear on prosecutors’ obligations. They have obligations—the obligations that we have under article 31 of the refugee convention—and it is well to point out that those obligations are actually enshrined in our domestic legislation, here in this honourable House. The domestic legislation in section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is quite clear in this area. Those who facilitate, control and engineer these offences are subject to prosecution.