The Law Society has published new guidance for criminal defence practitioners representing asylum seekers charged with document offences.

The practice note provides advice on statutory defences available to asylum seekers who may be charged with offences relating to the possession or control of false documents, or the failure to have an immigration document at a leave or asylum interview.

The note states that, since 2012, the Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred over 30 cases to the relevant appeal court, including eight to the Court of Appeal.

The CCRC refers to a common chronology, that the defendant:

  • arrived in (or sought to transit through) the UK and claimed asylum or refugee status after being stopped by an immigration official;
  • was charged with an offence for arriving without a valid passport;
  • was advised that they did not have a defence; and
  • pleaded guilty, subsequently receiving a custodial sentence.

The note says the CCRC has referred these cases ‘on the basis that the appeal court concerned would allow the guilty plea to be vacated because the defendants were not notified or, nor afforded the opportunity, to raise any defence either under section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 or under section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004’.