Convictions overturned for asylum seekers wrongfully imprisoned for leading dinghies across the English Channel
Seven asylum seekers who were wrongfully imprisoned for steering dinghies across the English Channel have had their convictions overturned.
Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions on Tuesday due to the same “error of law” that saw five other cases thrown out last year.
Lord Justice Edis previously found that the law had been ‘misunderstood’ by the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and that a legal ‘heresy’ had developed, leading claimants to believe asylum that they had no defense against the charges of assisting illegal immigration.
Two more appeals by asylum seekers are due to be heard in court later this year, while the cases of several people who pleaded guilty on the basis of flawed legal opinions are before the Criminal Cases Review Board.
More asylum seekers are believed to have been wrongfully convicted, but in each case an individual appeal must be made before the case can be overturned.
Several of the appellants, who had already served their prison sentences, showed up in court for Tuesday’s hearing, while others watched via video link from police custody.
Nima Bari, an Iranian man who was imprisoned for three years in January 2021 and falsely labeled a “little people smuggler” by the Interior Ministry, said: “I wasted 20 months of my life for no reason.”
Mr Bari was cleared of facilitating illegal entry by piloting a boat, but must take further legal action to overturn a separate charge of illegal entry into the UK himself, as he pleaded guilty by error.
The other appellants whose convictions for aiding illegal immigration were overturned are Altaib Mobarak, Mohammed Naeemaee, Amir Keshavarz, Khedr Mohamed, Mohsen Babakhani and Sayed Hossein Daroubord.
The appeals court also refused to allow a new trial for Fariboz Taher Rakei, whose conviction was overturned in December.
Lord Justice Edis said there was not “sufficient distinction in his case which would necessitate the radically different treatment which his retrial would entail”.
The CPS did not seek a new trial in any of the seven appeals heard on Tuesday, nor did it oppose the asylum seekers’ challenges.
“In these particular circumstances, the position taken by the prosecution is entirely correct – the legal issues have all been resolved, the trials were in all respects indistinguishable from the trials which resulted in convictions which have already been overturned,” he said. said Lord Justice Edis. .
“They all raise the same point in relation to the meaning of entering the UK for the purposes of immigration law. In each of them the Crown Court proceeded on an error of law in this regard.
Lord Justice Edis, Mrs Justice May and Sir Nicholas Blake have previously said that asylum seekers who have been intercepted by authorities in the Channel, or who have been taken into immigration detention after reaching a port, are not entered the UK legally.
Their decision on four appeals in December said: “As the law currently stands, an asylum seeker who is simply attempting to arrive at UK borders in order to make an application does not enter or attempt to enter the country illegally.
“Even if an asylum seeker does not have a valid passport or identity document or prior authorization to enter the UK, that does not make their arrival at port a breach of any asylum law. ‘immigration.”
The judges noted the government was trying to change the law to mean asylum seekers could be prosecuted for ‘arrival’, rather than ‘entry’, into (to) Britain, but said they had subject to current law.
The Nationality and Borders Bill would also increase the maximum penalty for the offense of assisting illegal immigration to life, as well as the penalty for illegal entry from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
A government document said the new law “will make it possible to prosecute individuals who are intercepted in UK territorial waters and brought into the UK”.
The Independent previously revealed that the Home Office sparked the wave of illegal prosecutions after it decided to target asylum seekers who run Channel boats.
An investigation revealed that the ministry asked the CPS “what more can be done” as the number of level crossings increased in 2019, then drastically changed its tactics.
The following month, the Home Office contracted a drone company to start filming asylum seekers in dinghies crossing France.
Immigration Enforcement then presented images of “pilots” to the CPS in connection with the charge of assisting illegal immigration, which had never before been used in such circumstances.
The Home Office has so far refused to publicly acknowledge the Court of Appeal’s judgments, with Priti Patel continuing to brand all Channel crossings ‘unlawful’ despite the findings.