Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency Publishes Three Reports On Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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John Vine CBE QPM, the Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, has published three reports focusing on the Agency’s operations in Scotland and Northern Ireland: border operations, countering abuse of the Common Travel Area, and the Agency’s representation at first-tier appeals in Scotland.

1) BORDER OPERATIONS

This inspection took place between 1 November 2010 and 10 January 2011 and focused on the deployment of detection staff to air and seaports, the risk assessment of small ports, the selection of people, vehicles and freight for searching and the treatment of passengers by Agency officers.

At the time of inspection, the Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:
* Officers were courteous and professional;
* Stakeholder relations were good with port operators speaking highly of the Agency; and
* Frontline officers demonstrated a commitment to identifying and seizing illicit commodities, sharing information on trends and using local knowledge to good effect.

However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:
* At airports, senior managers focused on concentrating the deployment of staff to passport control, potentially at the expense of detecting drugs and other illicit goods;
* There was no current programme to assess the threat posed by small ports and it was unclear who had responsibility for this work within the Agency; and
* There were intelligence gaps regarding potential risks to the border.

John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, said:

“This inspection assessed the work of the UK Border Agency’s border operations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I found that the focus of staff deployment at airports was concentrated on the Primary Checkpoint (passport control), potentially at the expense of illicit commodity detection.

“I found that only 63 out of 683 threat assessments of small air and seaports had been conducted in the whole of Scotland and Northern Ireland, with none since 2008. At the ports inspected, I was surprised to find that the Agency had not made any seizures from freight containers for the 14 month period between the end of September 2009 and our inspection in November 2010.

“The Agency needs to improve the way it identifies and addresses threats to the UK border in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have made seven recommendations to this effect.”

2) COUNTERING ABUSE OF THE COMMON TRAVEL AREA

The inspection into how the Scotland and Northern Ireland region counters abuse of the Common Travel Area (CTA) took place between 1 November and 3 December 2010. It focused on the implementation of policy and guidance governing the CTA, joint working and relationships with stakeholders and delivery partners.

At the time of inspection, the Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:
* Generally there were good working relationships with stakeholders, particularly the Garda from the Republic of Ireland;
* An ongoing operation to counter abuse of the CTA had successfully detected and identified immigration offenders; and
* No complaints of unfair treatment had been made by passengers at the ports inspected.

However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:
* The Agency did not know how many immigration offenders had been arrested but had subsequently failed to report to their local reporting centre;
* The Agency also did not know if any of the offenders who had failed to report had been recorded as absconders and was unaware of their current location;
* Staff regularly prioritised their activities based on intelligence that was more than two years old;
* The region had no specific targets to combat the abuse of the CTA;
* There was no guidance on stop and search operations at CTA ports; and
* Greater internal collaboration between Agency staff was needed.

John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, said:

“This inspection examined how the Scotland and Northern Ireland region of the UK Border Agency was managing the risks associated with the Common Travel Area (CTA) in order to counter abuse. When a person has been given permission to enter one part of the CTA, they have free movement to all other parts within it. This freedom of movement can be exploited, as people take advantage of the lack of border controls to transit illegally between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

“Given the risks associated with the CTA, I am concerned that staff regularly prioritise their activities on intelligence that is more than two years old. I am also concerned that staff lack confidence in the legality of the powers they are using to counter abuse of the CTA. The UK Border Agency must be satisfied that the practices it employs are lawful.”

“Overall, the Agency needs to improve its operations in controlling the CTA, through improved risk assessments, guidance and policy.”

3) REPRESENTATION AT FIRST-TIER APPEALS IN SCOTLAND

This inspection took place between 22-26 November 2010 and focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Glasgow Presenting Officers’ Unit (POU).

At the time of inspection, the Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:
* Management of the POU was effective, with clear targets and priorities; and
* The work of the presenting officers was generally well regarded by Immigration Judges.

However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:
* The POU was achieving an attendance rate at appeals of 45% (year to date) compared to the target of 100% attendance;
* The Agency could not explain the difference between the locally recorded figure of 45% for attendance and the centrally recorded figure of 95% on the national database;
* Analysis of allowed appeals was hampered by poor quality information on the national database; and
* At the time of inspection, 66% of entry clearance refusals were overturned at appeal.

John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, said:

“This inspection examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the UK Border Agency’s Glasgow Presenting Officers’ Unit (POU). The Agency has the responsibility not only to make decisions on immigration matters but also to defend appeals against those decisions at the Immigration Court. Agency policy since 2006 has been to have representation in 100% of cases – I found that the Glasgow POU was falling far short of achieving this target at appeals, with their locally recorded figure of 45% attendance.

“The evidence from this inspection shows that representation does achieve greater confidence in the outcome of cases and increases the likelihood of an appeal being dismissed. There is a clear need for national guidance to be issued by the Agency to prioritise the cases which should receive representation at appeal.”
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