Assaulting an immigration officer: offence
‘(1) A person who assaults an immigration officer commits an offence.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to—
(a) imprisonment for a period not exceeding 51 weeks,
(b) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or
(3) In the application of this section to Northern Ireland the reference in subsection (2)(a) to 51 weeks shall be treated as a reference to 6 months.
(4) In the application of this section to Scotland the reference in subsection (2)(a) to 51 weeks shall be treated as a reference to 12 months.
(5) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) (51 week maximum term of sentences) the reference in subsection (2)(a) to 51 weeks shall be treated as a reference to 6 months.’.—[Mr. Byrne.]
This is a debate that we have, to an extent, already had. The purpose of the clauses is to create the new offence of assaulting an immigration officer, to establish penalties and sanctions relating to that offence, and to ensure that there is the power of arrest, and to make the technical and consequential amendments that are required to ensure that it is possible to give effect to warrants to enter premises, to search individuals who are arrested and to seize material. They not only bring the new offence into being, but align it with the similar offences of assaulting an officer of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and assaulting a police officer. The proposed penalties, which have been well debated by the Committee, are fairly standard and well established.
Before I sit down I underline the point that we have had a useful debate in the Committee, in which we have spent some time celebrating the contribution, pride and professionalism of our immigration officers. The Committee can take this opportunity to send an important signal to immigration service staff that we take their work extremely seriously and will ensure that they have the protection of the law where and when they need it.
I have just one question. We notice that the offence in the new clause will be triable only summarily. If an immigration officer is assaulted and any harm is caused to him, which one imagines there might well be in many cases, it then becomes an offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and triable at the Crown court, because that offence carries a maximum sentence of five years and can be tried in either the magistrates court or the Crown court.
In a case in which the offence becomes triable in the Crown court and is tried there, what will happen to the summary-only offence of assaulting an immigration officer? Will it be able to stand as an alternative on the indictment in the Crown court for the offence of assault occasioning actual body harm?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for such a direct question. Will he permit me to deliver him a much fuller response in writing than I am able to give him this afternoon?
Will the Minister address a related question in his letter to me? Will there be any way to communicate to sentencing judges, through sentencing guidelines, that if somebody is convicted of assaulting an immigration officer and occasioning actual bodily harm, the fact that it was an immigration officer who was assaulted should be regarded as an aggravating feature of the offence? That is to say, the fact that it was an offence of causing actual bodily harm to an immigration officer should be regarded as an aggravating circumstance and make the sentence more serious than it would otherwise be.
I have made it my policy to be as helpful to the Committee as I possibly can, and that is the path of least resistance to a successful Third Reading and Report stage. If there is advice that I can usefully summarise and provide to the Committee, I will of course seek to do so.
I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Hertsmere. He has been consistent in his words of praise for the professionals in the immigration service. Like me, he understands that is important for the House to send a clear signal of support to immigration officers, who often do difficult work in dangerous circumstances. I will undertake to have a conversation with my noble Friend Baroness Scotland to understand what guidance we can issue to the judiciary so that they, too, can understand the gravity and seriousness with which we want the offences to be taken.