The change to the law is currently moving through the Commons. Campaigners noticed the small print of legislation in the Home Secretary’s Nationality and Borders Bill will give greater legal protections to officers.
Immigration barrister Colin Yeo spotted the legal text says “a relevant officer is not liable in any criminal or civil proceedings” if they are found to have acted “in good faith”.
It says criminal action should not be taken if there were “reasonable grounds” for the decisions made by Border Force.
The controversial Nationality and Borders Bill is a part of the Government’s “New Plan for Immigration” and has received widespread backlash from opposition MPs and campaigners.
The Bill aims to crack down on illegal immigration and human trafficking, while offering greater support for those genuinely trying to seek asylum.
Critics of the Bill have focused on plans to remove the right immigration and asylum claimants to apply for judicial review and claimed the legislation breaks the UK’s obligations under the UN refugee convention.
Up until now, the plans to give greater protections to Border Force officers in the event of death have gone unnoticed.
Mr Yeo described the plans “to immunise officials from the criminal and civil law consequences of their actions” as a “worrying” development.
The changes to the law come as Ms Patel looks to cut back the number of people making the dangerous journey across the Channel.
So far this year over 18,000 migrants have reached the UK in small boats – more than double the total for the whole of 2020.
The Home Secretary has authorised Border Force to start using new “turnback” tactics to push back small boats entering UK waters.
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Officials have been practicing using jet skis to bump the rear of dinghies and turn them around.
The tactics are not currently in use as under existing laws officers would be in endanger of prosecution if a migrant drowned.
Explaining how the Nationality and Borders Bill will change the law, Mr Yeo said: “These pushback powers will be exercisable if an immigration official has reasonable grounds to suspect that certain immigration offences are being or have been committed.
“If so, the official may stop the relevant ship, board it, require it to be taken to any place on land or water in the UK or elsewhere and be detained there and the ship may be required to leave UK waters.
“The direct authorisation of the Secretary of State is required before a ship may be taken to a country outside the UK and that authorisation may only be given if the country concerned is willing to receive the ship.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “As part of our ongoing response to these dangerous crossings, we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats.
“All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.
“We will fix the broken asylum system through our new plan for immigration, break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk and welcome people through safe and legal route.”