advised that the Nationality and Borders Bill contains new maritime enforcement powers, as the Home Office seeks to extend its activity, beyond the UK territory, beyond UK territorial waters, and into international waters and into foreign waters. In so doing it seeks powers to stop, board, divert, and detain foreign ships and ships without nationality. It explains the current legislation allowing immigration action at sea, initially dating from a 2016 Act [I recall a Border Force cutter commander complaining that, at the time, having been diverted from anti-smuggling they had no powers to act against a vessel suspected of carrying illegal immigrants until they or the vessel touched UK soil…].
Currently, broadly speaking, immigration powers – in relation to UK waters – as regards a UK ship, a ship without nationality, a foreign ship, and a ship registered under the law of another British territory (e.g. the Isle of Man) can only to be exercised for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting various immigration-related criminal offences.
The new Bill seeks to modify existing maritime enforcement powers and to add new ones. These include the ability to act in foreign or international waters. In addition, the definition of “ship” is broadened so as to encompass even the small inflatable and other flimsy craft that might be involved. The Bill also includes new powers to seize and dispose of a ship and its property where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it has been used in the commission of a relevant immigration-related criminal offence and the ship is in UK waters or otherwise in the UK.
The author of the article asserts, rightly, that the proposede powers raise issues as to their compatibility with international law commitments by which the UK is bound, such as international maritime law, human rights law, and the Refugee Convention. Those issues are important and deserve discrete consideration.
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