https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/16/home-office-in-the-media-blog-wednesday-16-january/

Home Office in the media blog: Wednesday 16 January

Today's Home Office stories include calls for the 'good character' citizenship test for children to be scrapped, and reporting that criminal gangs are exploiting a legal loophole to entice young children to act as drug mules.

Home Office in the media

MPs urged to scrap ‘good character’ citizenship test for children

The Guardian reports that the Government has updated its guidance on how the “good character” requirement should be applied to children seeking to register as UK citizens. However, campaigners say the move does not go far enough and are calling for it to be scrapped entirely for child applications.

The paper says that in the updated guidance, caseworkers have been told to take into account “the child’s age and particular circumstances”, and to consider “any mitigating factors such as the ability to understand the consequences of their actions”. The paper says that the updated guidelines respond to the 2017 review of the good character requirement by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt.

The Guardian reports that campaigners, including Amnesty International, Runnymede Trust and the Project for the Registration of Children, have previously criticised the guidelines for failing to differentiate between young people who have grown up in the UK and want to register as British citizens, and adult migrants looking to naturalise. The papers says that campaigners have estimated that as many as 500 children have had their applications rejected for failing to satisfy the good character requirement since it was introduced in 2006.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

All citizenship applications are assessed on their individual merits.

In the case of applications from children, the child’s best interests are always a primary consideration in decision making.

The good character requirement applies to those aged 10 and over as that is the age of criminal responsibility.

Drug gangs use loophole to lure mules

There is coverage in the Times and Mail of comments by a Chief Constable that criminal gangs are exploiting a legal loophole to entice young children to act as drug mules.

Shaun Sawyer, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said that a measure designed by Parliament to protect young people who had been trafficked or exploited by criminals was being used to lure young people into county lines drugs running, the Times reports.

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act says a child will not be guilty of an offence if they were under 18 and the alleged offence was a direct consequence of being a victim of slavery or relevant exploitation, the papers report.

Mr Sawyer told the Home Affairs Select Committee that dealers were coercing young people by telling them “it’s OK, you are not going to get charged”. The Times reports that the CPS has said it has also spotted problems with how the clause was being used.

The Mail notes that 505 suspects have been arrested since the Home Secretary launched the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre to tackle county lines gangs.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

Tackling human trafficking and modern slavery remains a top priority for this Government and we are committed to stamping out this abhorrent crime.

An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act is underway. The review will consider the legal application of the Act and will determine how an appropriate balance is achieved between protecting victims from criminal prosecution and preventing criminals from abusing this protection to avoid justice.