Facts: In February 2021, the appellant arrived at Dublin Airport on a flight from Lisbon. He was stopped by a customs officer when leaving the airport as the officer thought it was unusual that the appellant did not have much luggage with him, and only essential travel was permitted at that time of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Upon searching the appellant’s bag, the customs officer found twelve refugee travel documents, along with two national passports. At the same time, thirteen passengers presented to immigration control with no travel documents, and they were refused leave to land. Over the course of Garda interviews, it was found that the appellant was working for another person and described how one person from the group of thirteen passengers would collect the travel documents and hand them over at the airport. The appellant would then return to Spain and from there send the documents to an address in another EU country.
The appellant was convicted of six counts of trafficking in illegal immigrants contrary to section 2 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 and was sentence to five years imprisonment. The appellant brought an appeal against the severity of the sentence imposed by the Circuit Court.
principally on the grounds that the sentencing judge had failed to consider mitigating factors in reducing the headline sentence, including that the appellant had limited English, no connection to Ireland, his family was in Spain and that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.
Reasoning: In reviewing the sentence issued by the trial judge, the Court of Appeal held that it was a serious offence and involved transnational organised crime. While the appellant may not have been the principal organiser, he was engaged in criminal activity and knew that what he was involved in was illegal. The Court of Appeal recognised the appellant’s actions as fundamentally an abuse of Ireland’s immigration policy and such that it could affect its relationship with the UK in securing the Common Travel Area.
As regards the argument put forward by the appellant that the thirteen passengers willingly partook in the arrangement and that no coercion was involved, it was recognised that the offence under section 2 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 is framed so as to embrace persons who are not being coerced. The Court nonetheless recognised that while the case did not involve coercion per se, the criminal organisation was exploiting illegal migrant statuses and movement, and the consequent economic vulnerability of the persons involved, for profit. Where coercion was involved this would have fallen under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. Another significant aggravating factor were the number of persons whose illegal entry was being facilitated.
Decision: The Court of Appeal held that the headline sentence was set at an appropriate level and that mitigating factors were sufficiently considered by the trial judge. Accordingly the appeal against sentence was dismissed.