New maritime immigration powers in the Immigration Act 2016

The Immigration Act 2016 contains new maritime enforcement powers, which are quite topical in the light of current concerns about the UK Border Force's ability to control entry by sea going vessels. Indeed the BBC has just recently reported on the dearth of operational UK Border Force Cutters (small fast intercepting vessels) to control unauthorised attempts to reach the UK.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire MP announced last week that from tomorrow "new maritime enforcement powers will come into force, which will allow Border Force officers to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and arrest anyone they suspect has broken immigration law."

These powers are contained at schedule 14 to the Act and primarily are engaged when an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a breach of the Immigration Act 1971 is being or has been committed. The powers include the ability to stop the vessel, board it, and require it to travel to a designated port and be detained there. In addition officers may search the vessel, anyone on the vessel, or any cargo carried. Officers are permitted to arrest persons on the vessel suspected of being guilty of an offence, to require information to be given and to search for documents establishing the nationality of anyone on board. 

The interesting aspect to the Act is in its amendment of the Immigration Act 1971- its 45 year old predecessor, which still forms the backbone of immigration law. These amendments alter the offences of illegal entry to allow 'attempted breaches'. This is in contrast to the previous drafting which focused on breaches which had actually occurred. The necessity for this is that illegal entry would previously have required an individual to physically disembark in the UK, and so an offence could not have been said to have been committed until that point in time, whereas now there is an 'attempted' arrival or 'attempted' entry, which will better facilitate the use of the powers to stop a vessel before it gets anywhere near the shore. Of course to intercept the vessel in the first place UK Border Force will need to have a cutter in range to intercept and the UK's long coastline does not make that an easy task.