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Ryanair paid £400,000 in year under UK passport control penalties, judge reveals

Published 16/02/2016

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary

Ryanair has paid out more than £400,000 in a year under legislation allowing the Home Secretary to penalise airline and ship owners if travellers arrive at UK passport control barriers without correct identity documents, a judge said.

Judge Damien Lochrane said aircraft and ship owners could be charged £2,000 per individual under a provision in the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act.

The £400,000 figure emerged as Ryanair won a civil court dispute relating to the charges with Home Secretary Theresa May.

Judge Lochrane said the airline had paid "over some £400,000 odd in one year" to the "UK Treasury" under the provision - although he did not say which year.

Ryanair asked the judge to intervene after being penalised by the Home Office as a result of two Albanians arriving at Edinburgh Airport carrying false Greek passports in May 2015.

Judge Lochrane, who analysed the case at the Central London County Court earlier this year, said the two Albanians - a man and a woman - flew from Majorca.

He said they seemed to have passed through Spanish border police and through Ryanair ground handling agents in Spain.

Their false passports were spotted when checked by UK Border Force inspectors at immigration control in Edinburgh Airport.

Mrs May subsequently told Ryanair to pay £4,000 - £2,000 for the man and £2,000 for the woman.

But Ryanair said the charges imposed by Mrs May were unfair because the "falsity" of the passports would not have been "reasonably apparent" to their ground handling agents.

Judge Lochrane agreed and ruled in Ryanair's favour.

He allowed an appeal by the airline and said the £4,000 charges imposed by Mrs May should be dismissed.

The judge said there was confusion about the penalty provision.

He said there was "no proper statutory definition" of what constituted "the offence".

Legislators had suggested that a penalty would be imposed "where the falsity of the document" was "reasonably apparent".

But the judge said it was "incumbent" on legislators to define with "some clarity" the circumstances in which the penalty would be imposed so that the "average citizen" could "readily understand the obligations".

"This is thrown in this case into fairly stark relief because there are, in fact, huge sums of money involved," the judge added.

"It is apparent from the evidence I have heard that this applicant alone, Ryanair, has paid over some £400,000 odd in one year to the UK Treasury in respect of this particular provision."

He went on: "One must, of course, remember that, in theory at least, these charges might well apply to an individual citizen who transports another into the country by some means and fails to identify the falsity of travel documents which might otherwise be considered to be reasonably apparent.

"It seems to me there must be some relatively objective standard to be applied and, as I have said, that the state must make it reasonably apparent, at least to the averagely competent citizen, what must be done to avoid incurring such a penalty."

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