I don’t often swear online. It usually takes an immense act of stupidity from a Formula 1 driver to incite me to do so, and the last time I tried that, the Chief Whip told me off mere seconds later. So profanity, even mildly, in a blog post is very unusual, particularly when directed at our leader. Which is why I did my little rant about these burly Home Office types turning up at tube stations and conducting checks on people’s immigration status on my own blog.
This is the second Home Office show of disproportionate force in the last two weeks. First there were the “Go home” poster vans, described as “stupid and offensive” by Vince Cable. Now we have teams of Home Office officials turning up at tube stations and questioning people’s immigration status. Thing is, no matter how shifty I looked in the presence of authority, and I have a very irritating deferential instinct that makes me very self conscious in that situation, the evidence from the Independent suggests that I would be unlikely to be apprehended, because I’m white.
I wondered if there was any advice about what your rights were if you are stopped and, just as importantly, what you could do to help someone else in that situation. I found this by Ian Dunt on politics.co.uk which has useful links to the Home Office’s own guidelines. The basic premise is that they should only be stopping people they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are immigration offenders. He says:
When you first see the UKBA presence do not do anything which raises suspicion. This is referred to as “having an adverse reaction to an immigration presence”. Doing so gives the officers reasonable suspicion.
Do not change the speed of your walking or suddenly change direction. Maintain a steady pace. Do not hang back from the barriers. Do not behave confrontationally or aggressively. Enter into the conversation willingly, and then state that you are aware of your rights and can walk away unless the officer can give a reason for having reasonable suspicion of your status.
Use your phone to film the entire encounter. Any officer who speaks to you must identify themselves verbally and by producing a warrant card. They must explain their reason for questioning you.
At this point ask them what gave them reasonable suspicion to have stopped you. They must tell you that you are not obliged to answer any questions. They must tell you that you are not under arrest and are free to leave at any time. If they fail to do any of these things, tell them.
Make sure you clearly record the identification number of the officer. Sometimes this will be covered up or not present – it’s a common tactic. Insist on knowing the number before you cooperate with the officer. If at any point you decide to leave they cannot pursue you unless they have sufficient basis to arrest you under paragraphs 17(1) & 16(2) of Schedule 2 or of the Immigration Act 1971, or if you satisfy section 28A of the Act.
If you are not being questioned – and if you are white and middle class that is very likely – you can still help. You can record everything. You can inform people of their rights when they are stopped by officers. You can take people’s contact details if they are stopped. If there is a case against them, a failure of protocol by the officer will be relevant. You can get a useful fact-sheet of your rights for printing out and handing to people here.
This is clearly quite useful information to have. I would suggest having a good read of Chapter 31 of the Home Office Enforcement Instructions and Guidance.
Obviously it goes without saying that if you are dealing with these people, you need to be polite, calm and assertive, but it’s always useful to be aware of people’s rights in these situations and to know what action to take if you see them being breached. If I were to see someone being treated unfairly, my sense of injustice would easily trump my instinctive deference.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings