Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Drivers Should Not Be Automatically Assumed Guilty When Migrants Found on Vehicles

However Security Training Needed as Lobby Group Responds to Government Survey
Shipping News Feature

UK – Last week saw the government's recent consultation on a 'New Plan for Immigration' close for submissions. Amongst those replying in detail was the Road Haulage Association (RHA) whose members have a special interest given the problems of migrants smuggled aboard import trailers.

The RHA of course knows exactly what it is talking about when it comes to this subject and it has wisely concentrated on those areas it holds expertise, rather than the all-encompassing topic of migration in general. The RHA response to the consultation can be read in full HERE but the main points concern the problems faced by individual drivers and their companies plying their trade with Europe.

By avoiding the simplistic route of multiple choice options the RHA has set out its views in some detail, supporting security at the border and pointing out its continuing cooperation with both the Home Office and Border Force. It agrees there is a need to increase security on vehicles entering from overseas but sees little point in raising the already high penalty levels (£2,000 per migrant) believing the focus should be on prevention and intervention.

The government speaks vaguely of ‘additional powers’ to search unaccompanied containers (and presumably trailers) yet the existing powers do not seem unduly limited and the RHA asks for an explanation of what is envisaged. One of the key points is the proposal for penalties for failing to properly secure a vehicle and this is firmly supported by the RHA.

Anyone who has worked on the ground with trailer freight knows there are numerous ways to secure the vehicle, many of them appearing satisfactory yet in fact totally ineffectual. It is not for us to give here a thieves guide to how to make a vehicle appear secure when it is not but certainly many drivers need instruction in how to secure a trailer or container properly, no matter the body type.

Again the RHA points out that many vehicles arrive in the UK with unsatisfactory seals or locks and are operated by companies or individuals not in the Clandestine Civil Penalty Regime. The need for proper driver training in this area is paramount. The problem is of course the many ways criminals find to gain entry to a vehicle and the authorities presume the guilt of a driver who was completely unaware of the situation.

The RHA insists that it is unfair for the driver or operators, as victims of criminal activity, find themselves being fined or criminalised for the behaviour of others, and additionally point out that certain vehicles, such as car transporters and outsized machinery, simply cannot be sealed, making it unreasonable to introduce blanket or arbitrary rules.

What has really disturbed the RHA is the proposal to expand he scheme to entail levying a penalty on all hauliers whatever the circumstances when a migrant is found stowed away in their vehicle, regardless of load security. This nonsense the RHA finds unacceptable saying in effect it ‘creates a presumption of guilt so high that is impossible for the driver or operator to even appeal against a penalty’, going on to call it ‘draconian’.

As we have seen so often of late government asks for the views of experts and we must hope that, after several instances when it has acted to the contrary despite good advice from the logistics industry lobby groups, this time it gets it right, listens, and reacts in an appropriate manner.

Photo: As a truck slows to negotiate the roundabout leading to the slip road to the Port of Ouistreham (Caen) a group of young migrants hurry to try and gain access to the vehicle.