Ryanair has won a significant court victory over the UK Home Office and a law that holds airlines responsible for checking to see if passports or travel documents are fakes
The judgment, at a central London court last month, will give hope to many landlords in this country who have accepted apparently legitimate ID documentation in good faith only to be prosecuted and fined by the Home Office when they turned out to be fake.
The Home Office, however, has tried to play it down and say it is neither retrospective and not binding on other courts.
Judge Damian Lochrane, sitting at Central London County Court, said the way the Home Office, and the UK Border Force, implemented the immigration rules “offends fairly basic concepts of justice and indeed the rule of law”.
Under the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act aircraft and ship owners can be charged £2,000 for any passenger who arrives at passport control without the correct documents.
Ryanair paid out more than £400,000 last year in 200 cases in related to passengers travelling with invalid documents or incorrect visas.
It challenged the most recent fine, £4,000 for flying two Albanians bearing false Greek passports from Majorca to Edinburgh in May last year.
At the hearing the Home Office said Greek passports were “high risk” documents for forgers.
UK Border Force officers noted the word “Hellas” (Greece) was not printed in requisite two-tone ink and the partially concealed Greek flag on the passports’ bioinformation pages also did not complete to a whole flag when held up to the light.
The man and woman successfully passed through Spanish border police and Ryanair’s ground handling agents.
Ryanair was ordered to pay a penalty of £4,000.
The airline said this was unfair because it would not have been obvious to the ground handlers that the passports were fake.
Judge Damien Lochrane agreed that airline staff could not be expected to spot cleverly forged passports that even trained immigration officers found hard to detect.
“One must remind oneself that it is not the duty of carriers to permit entry or exit. That duty lies with the Border Force,” said the judge.
The judge also said that in the light of a recent discovery at Stansted Airport of a forged Greek passport for which no fine was imposed it was “very clear from all of this that there has been a very inconsistent approach and inconsistent standards being applied”.
The judge allowed the appeal and dismissed the £4,000 charge imposed by Home Secretary Theresa May.
The Home Office said afterwards: “Airlines must be satisfied that all passengers have the necessary documentation before they are allowed to board a flight to the UK. We work closely with airlines to make sure their knowledge of documentation is thorough and up to date and carry out training with airline handling agents both in the UK and overseas.”
It also said the ruling was not retrospective and not binding on other courts.