20 August

The Home Secretary has powers under the relevant legislation (ie the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999) to fine an airline £2,000 if they allow a passenger to arrive in the UK with a false document such as a fake passport if, in the words of the Act, “its falsity is reasonably apparent”.

Recently the budget airline Ryanair was made subject to such a fine. An Albanian couple had flown on a Ryanair flight to the UK with passports which turned out to be fake and Ryanair were fined £2,000 x 2 equals £4,000 (media reports didn’t say what happened to the Albanian couple).

Ryanair thought that this was unfair because in their opinion the forgeries were sophisticated, the falsity was not “reasonably apparent”, and they took the matter to law.

The Judge at the Central London County Court agreed with Ryanair and overturned the fine.

As in other areas the Home Office is effectively outsourcing immigration control to private organisations. But it is of course the case that in areas such as detecting forged documents the Home Office cannot realistically expect a private organisation to have the same level of expertise as they do.

So this judgement might have the effect of making the Home Secretary think more carefully about levying such fines; the Judge’s comments indicate that this has been quite a nice little earner for the UK Treasury.

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