News & Insights

Illegal Migration Bill: Welcomed by Human Traffickers


Organised Crime poses an increasing problem around the world. Endangering the economic well-being of countries, it can pose national security threats and affect vulnerable communities. Anisha Kiri tracks recent developments.

The Problem

In 2010, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (‘UNODC’) said, “the criminal market spans the planet: illicit goods are sourced from one continent, trafficked across another, and marketed in a third” (discussed here). It appears that the situation remains the same over a decade later and often these “goods” can include people themselves.

There are a vast number of scenarios which are commonly seen in the United Kingdom where members of Organised Crime Groups (‘OCGs’) traffic vulnerable people across the border so that they can be exploited whilst the OCG remains undetected. These individuals are preyed upon due to their age, sex, poverty or other difficulties which place them in a desperate situations. They are seduced into crossing borders, dangerously, in promise of a better life. However, once they arrive, they are kept under strict control of the OCG who strip them of their identity documents, cut all ties of communication and are forced into doing the OCGs bidding. Such individuals are predictably terrified to come forward due to fear or reprisals or even worse, deportation back to the very country they embarked the arduous journey to flee from. Currently, these individuals can seek protection and relief by making a claim under modern slavery, but the introduction of the Illegal Immigration Bill 2023 has done much to set back these protections.

The Law

An Organised Crime Group is defined in the Serious Crime Act 2015, within section 45(6), as a group which (a) has at its purpose, or one of its purposes, the carrying on of criminal activities, and (b) consists of three or more persons who act, or agree to act, together to further that purpose.

Reported organised crime has been on the rise in the past decade. The Government focused its efforts on the issue back in 2013 when they initiated their Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. One commitment proposed in the strategy was to provide effective legislation aimed at tackling those who actively participate in and benefit from Organised Crime. The strategy was further re-evaluated in 2018.

It is said that the OCGs cost the government more than £37 billion a year (read here).  During the last few years, the NCA estimated that the number of individuals engaged in OCGs surged from 50,000 to 70,000 and criminal exploitation had risen by 42% with drug-trafficking being one of the most prevalent forms of exploitation. 


In order to seek to tackle these issues, HM Government has introduced several bills over the course of the past few years. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill 2021 a.k.a the Spy Cops Bill (discussed a greater length here) essentially seeks to give undercover operatives greater powers in infiltration campaigns including permitting them to commit offences whilst undertaking their duties, in the hope that this might prevent more serious crimes from taking place. The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 seeks to give police forces increased powers, sparking the widespread ‘Kill the Bill’ movement. It has been described as a step closer to state control (read here).

Both these Bills have scope for abuse – the CHIS Bill essentially enshrines in law a right for operatives to commit offences that have already caused public outrage, and they would be authorised to do so without judicial oversight (discussed here). The nation has already witnessed the abuse of these powers, such as in the case of Mark Kennedy (read here). The entire scandal assisted in the quashing of convictions in R v Barkshire and Others [2011] EWCA Crim 1885, undoing the work of the entire operation. At the same time, the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill restricts protests, curtailing the right to freedom of expression and assembly, a basic human right. It also allows police to subject individuals to suspicionless stop and searches, an already controversial topic owing to the data demonstrating clear discrimination by the police.

A Regressive Step

The Illegal Migration Bill 2023 (informally dubbed the ‘Stop the Boats Bill’, here after ‘the Bill’) was introduced on 20th July 2023.  The fundamental intention of the Bill is “to prevent and deter unlawful migration, and in particular migration by unsafe and illegal routes, by requiring the removal from the United Kingdom of certain persons who enter or arrive in the United Kingdom in breach of immigration control.”

The Bill deters illegal entry into the United Kingdom by stringently requiring that these individuals who enter the UK illegally be removed from the country without providing an opportunity to make claims for such protection against modern slavery and human trafficking.

Theresa May speaking in Parliament, made the following comments, “Under this bill, a migrant woman tricked into prostitution would get no support. The government’s response would be, we don’t care you’ve been in slavery in the UK, we don’t care you’ve been in a living hell. We do care that you came here illegally, so we’re going to detain you, send you home, even if it’s into the arms of the people who trafficked you here in the first place. This bill will consign more people to slavery – no doubt about it.”

Whilst the Bill’s strict application means that individuals can be removed before a Conclusive Ground’s decision, there is a narrow group of people who are exempt from the automatic disqualification such as where the Home Secretary determines that there are compelling reasons to the contrary. These reasons can include cases where the individuals are willing to support prosecutions, whether their presence in the UK is deemed necessary so that co-operation can be achieved and whether the public interest of that co-operation outweighs any risk of serious harm to the public (discussed here). 

However, with all these factors being taken into consideration, it is likely to reduce a victim’s willingness to come forward and co-operate with authorities, as their presence may ultimately not be deemed “necessary” and therefore they could risk deportation back to their home country or a third safe country such as Rwanda. Migration policy expert, Zoe Gardner, commented that by virtue of this Bill,  “you create a population who are completely outside of the protection of the state, and you say to the traffickers, ‘we won’t help these people, have at them.’


There is undoubtedly a problem with OCGs and the Stop the Boats Bill, and it is not clear what the Government seeks to do about this. Hard cases, as they say, make bad law.

Anisha Kiri is a junior tenant at Mountford Chambers and is and is frequently instructed in serious and complex criminal cases.


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