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FOUR IRANIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS who were jailed for helping to steer small boats across the channel have won their appeal against their convictions.

On 21 December, the Court of Appeal recognised that the Crown Court in Kent where the men were convicted and sentenced had made “fundamental” errors and quashed their convictions.

The court heard submissions that the defendants’ sole intention was to claim asylum in the UK, that they wished to make themselves known to authorities to do so, and that there was therefore no attempt at clandestine entry. However, in the case of GZ, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ client, he was wrongly advised that he had no legal defence on this basis and so was advised to plead guilty.

The court found, “In truth, this guilty plea was not entered simply because counsel gave wrong advice. It was entered because a heresy about the law had been adopted by those who were investigating these cases, and passed on to those who prosecuted them, and then further passed on to those who were defending them and finally affected the way the judges at the Canterbury Crown Court approached these prosecutions.”

Kate O’Raghallaigh, the Barrister representing GZ said: “GZ’s prosecution was flawed from the outset. The Court of Appeal accepted that the role of the Home Office and the CPS in causing or permitting a false understanding of the law was important. In GZ’s case, this was central to the Court’s decision that he had been deprived of a fair opportunity to decide whether to plead guilty or not.

“This decision makes it clear that our government imprisoned four vulnerable people, simply because they sought asylum here. Their attempt to criminalise the act of seeking safety is a travesty. These men were victims of a system that leaves people with no other option than dangerous journeys here. Our government could prevent people risking their lives like this by providing safe passage – instead they have tried to turn us against people seeking protection.”

The decision to overturn these convictions represents a significant challenge to the government’s increasing criminalisation of people seeking asylum in the UK.

Zoe Gardner, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “We hope today’s victory will prompt an urgent rethink of this government’s dangerous and draconian approach. As the Borders Bill passes into law next year, we know our politicians are looking to criminalise more and more people who’ve sought asylum here via unofficial routes – despite doing nothing to provide safe regulated routes to asylum here. We call on government to protect people’s right to seek asylum, regardless of their journey here, and establish safe routes to asylum in the UK now.”

The UK Government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill is currently trying to make it easier for the Home Office to jail people seeking asylum in the UK via so-called ‘irregular’ routes. The plans to criminalise the act of seeking asylum in the UK come despite government shutting down and blocking all safe alternative routes to protection, like the Dubs scheme and humanitarian visas. The laws proposed under the new Borders Bill have been condemned by human rights groups, barristers and cross-party MPs.

* Source: Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants