A major weapon in the UK Border Force's armoury in tackling the modern scourge of people smuggling is that vehicles used for that purpose are subject to forfeiture. As a ruling of the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) showed, however, solid evidence of conscious wrongdoing is required before the law will countenance such a draconian step against private property.
The case concerned a lorry which was seized at Dover after clandestine immigrants were found in what was alleged to be a concealed compartment. The vehicle was declared forfeit after a Border Force officer concluded that it had been adapted for smuggling purposes. The decision was confirmed following a review.
In upholding a challenge to that outcome brought by the vehicle's owner, the FTT accepted as credible his account that he had lent it to a long-standing friend and business associate prior to its seizure. He had no reason to suspect that it would be adapted or used for smuggling and had never had any contact with the driver who was at the wheel when the lorry was stopped.
The FTT found that the owner had created a purported contract, documenting the loan of the vehicle, after it was seized. However, it ruled that that had been done to give an aura of legal authority to what was a genuine arrangement. The Border Force officer had made unfounded assumptions as to the owner's state of mind and should have started his investigation from the premise that he was an innocent party. The Director of Border Revenue was required to reconsider the owner's request for the return of his vehicle in the light of the FTT's findings.
If you have suffered an injustice at the hands of the authorities, contact us for advice on possible steps you can take.