Haulage firms are to bring legal action against the Home Office regarding the exorbitant fines imposed on drivers who, unwittingly or not, bring migrant stowaways into the country in their trucks.
Lorry drivers caught with illegal migrants on board are fined up to £2,000 for each stowaway discovered. They are now asking to be given a fairer opportunity to prove they have done everything in their power to secure their vehicles.
Lorry drivers, just going about their business, are confronted by weapon-wielding thugs (AKA Migrants) at Calais. pic.twitter.com/iO5NQWHIn5
— Jim Slater (@69mib) March 1, 2016
The court of appeal will hear two separate legal challenges this week; one from a Romanian firm and one from a Dutch firm, the Guardian reports.
More than 40 migrants were estimated to be entering Dover every day last summer, and the number of fines issued to haulage companies has more than tripled in just three years.
Last year alone, drivers and firms were served up with more than 3,300 civil penalties, costing the industry around £6.6 million.
James Hookham, the deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association, argued that on-the-spot fines meant even the most careful drivers were deemed guilty until proven innocent. He told the Guardian:
“Drivers are fined when migrants manage to get round the frontlines of British and French immigration enforcement,” adding: “It’s an affront to justice. It cannot be the responsibility of drivers to be the enforcers of European migration policy, as long as they have taken suitable precautions.”
He explained that drivers were often unable or too afraid to check their vehicles from the outside because of the violent nature of the migrants around the port of Calais. He added:
“If a driver was injured, a firm would face a health and safety inquiry saying why was the driver allowed to leave his vehicle, but if he doesn’t check the outside, he could be fined for not being careful enough about stowaways”.
Marius Cuzmin, the manager of a Romanian haulage firm that will challenge the fines in the court of appeal on Wednesday, was fined in 2013 after three people climbed into one of his trucks by leaping on to the roof from a tree or motorway bridge and cutting a hole in the soft tarpaulin cover.
“We are making the argument that sometimes it is completely unavoidable,” said Cuzmin’s solicitor, Rupinder Matharu, from law firm MTG. “He followed the guidance as closely as he could, but the Home Office found he did not have a padlock on the rope secured round the lorry.
“But that would have made no difference, because people got inside by cutting the tarpaulin. We hope the court of appeal will find there should be a more common-sense approach”, he added.
However, the government seems to be hardening their approach to the haulage industry right now. Just last week, Home Office ministers announced a consultation to extend the fines to rail operators and freight wagons.