This amendment clarifies that where an immigration officer is not absolutely certain that an item which has been seized under clause 21 is also evidence of an immigration offence, the immigration officer still has discretion to retain it rather than being under a duty to pass it to another investigating authority.
Amendment 95 is a minor and technical amendment that clarifies that where an immigration officer is not absolutely certain that an item that he or she has seized under the power in clause 21 is also evidence of an immigration offence, they still retain a discretion to hold or retain it, rather than being under a duty to pass it to another investigating authority. This addresses the very fine line between some offences, where it may not be clear at the outset whether they are immigration offences or not. For example, immigration officers investigating facilitation of an illegal entry in breach of immigration law may encounter forged, counterfeit or improperly obtained passports but may not necessarily know without further investigation whether they are being used by the facilitator or are unconnected with this offence.
On a point of clarification, how long can an item be held? For example, if a student has their laptop taken, that will have a direct impact on them. Is there any form of compensation or support around that?
It also applies where immigration officers, working in criminal investigation teams, have seized anything using their powers in relation to specified crimes that are commonly encountered in the course of exercising a function under the Immigration Acts, such as bigamy, forgery and human trafficking.
It sets out the arrangements for: notifying the relevant authority of the items seized; whether or not the authority will accept the items; handing them over; or returning them if, for example, the relevant authority does not believe them to be evidence of an offence.
In response to the concerns of the hon. Member for Rotherham about length, as I thought, there is no specific timeframe. However, there is an expectation that the immigration authorities will act reasonably. There are obviously practical concerns about retention of items such as laptops by the authorities. I am sure that they would view it as being in their very strong interest either to return the item, if it discloses the commission of no offence, or to pass it on to the relevant authority, if it were connected with the commission of a criminal offence. Therefore, there is a strong utility argument that would prompt the immigration authorities to act more promptly rather than hold on to items in the way that she fears.
I should be grateful if the Solicitor General would issue a statement on that in the guidance notes. I know from the experience of my constituents who have had mobile phones taken that they just seem to disappear, and that seems almost as a punishment or intimidation rather than for a productive reason.
I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady in this way. The arrangements in clause 21 mirror the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 arrangements, and that should reassure her at the very least that there is a framework. I accept that within that there will be occasions when individuals do end up waiting an inordinate time for items.
Of course, there are powers in relation to a criminal investigation under the Police (Property) Act 1897. Although I cannot give an undertaking, the points that the hon. Lady has put on the record are noted but I am satisfied that we have a framework mirroring PACE that acts as an exhortation to the authorities to act in a reasonable and prompt way. I am grateful to her for raising that point.