An update on where I've got to in my investigations into official powers to stop us and check our ID at sea

Here’s where I have got to with my Freedom of Information request for statistics relating to stop and searches by the UK Border Agency, plus my attempts to determine why they have been asking UK pleasure vessels coasting in territorial waters for ID and whether they have powers to do so.

I’ve outlined the worries that have prompted these investigations and the issues they raise in earlier blogs here and here.

First, the response to the FOI request.


It says that no information about the number of stop and searches of leisure yachts in the UK was collated between 2006 and 2009 (I asked about this period because it covers the handover of powers from Customs & Excise to the UK Border Agency).


It also says that there is no publicly held information about the number of times such vessels have been asked for or presented identification or documentation.


So no joy there.


Incidentally I’d been moaning in earlier blogs that the Home Office had flouted the legal deadline for a response, which is 20 working days and got back from 10 days out of the YW office to find this letter yesterday.

You will see it is dated 21 working days after my original request. Where has it been all this time? Oh yes, the postal strikes.

In the meantime, the Home Office press office has responded to each of a string of emails from me trying to establish what powers the UK Border Agency are exercising in asking coasting British yachtsmen to produce ID and documentation.

This is the most recent response.

‘The search of any vessel under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (CEMA), in UK’s internal waters and territorial seas plays an important role in the prevention of border crime.


UK Border Agency uses powers to board vessels suspected of smuggling prohibited and restricted goods, under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and the Criminal Justice International Co-operation Act 1990.


‘Our officers may ask questions where a vessel has come from, destination, number of crew and passengers and request evidence. UK Border Agency officers who board vessels at sea have the same powers they had previously as officers of HM Revenue & Customs.


‘The UK Border Agency does its best to work with the boating community to ensure freedom of movement is not delayed any longer than it should be.  The quicker we can check facts of who is on board, and journey details, the quicker we can be on our way, leaving owners and passengers to enjoy the sea.’


You’ll notice a slight vagueness to this, which I think is telling. The statement is not explicit that the powers granted by the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 allow The UK Border Agency to request ID of crew, or what ‘evidence’ they are entitled or inspect or record where no offence is being reported.


You’ll also I’m sure have noticed that, dressed up in the ostensibly reassuring wording of the final paragraph, is the implication that checking ‘facts of who is on board and journey details’ is routine and will continue – indeed if you want to get it over and done with quickly you’ll produce this documentation.


It contrasts with a previous response to our questions (click here) from the Home Office in which they made it clear that there is no compulsion to produce this information and no penalty for failing to do so.


In stark contrast to their obfuscations here, the Home Office makes police powers and our rights and liberties during stop and searches on land very clear by publicising them explicitly on their own website – click here.


Investigations continue.