Police Inspectorate backs call for Law change to protect migrant victims and witnesses of crime
- Inspectorate upholds super-complaint by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters
- Police data-sharing hampers crime reporting, says report
- Groups call for an end to hostile environment
The police inspectorate has called for an overhaul of laws and policies on police data-sharing with the Home Office in response to the first-ever super-complaint against the police, lodged by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. Responding to the complaint, filed December 2018, the inspectorate today backed fears that many victims of crime with insecure immigration status, in particular migrant women subject to domestic abuse, are afraid to make a report in case their details are handed to immigration enforcement as a result.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), along with the College of Policing and Independent Office for Police Conduct, upheld the groups’ complaint, including concerns over:
- How data-sharing between the police and Home Office deters some migrant victims or witnesses of crime from going to the police, particularly victims of domestic abuse
- Inconsistencies and confusion across police forces about how to deal with victims and witnesses who have insecure immigration status
- Harm caused to the public interest by victims’ inability to seek justice and offenders not being identified or reprimanded
In response to the report compiled by the police oversight bodies backed Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ calls for:
- A review of law and policy in this area, and for consistent policy and protocols to be developed in consultation with specialist agencies who understand the barriers to reporting faced by migrant victims of crime
- A data firewall between police and immigration enforcement to safeguard victims of domestic abuse – with an investigation into a data firewall for all migrant victims
Liberty and Southall Black Sisters welcomed the response and called on the Government and police to take urgent action to protect migrant victims and witnesses of crime by implementing a firewall to safeguard all victims and witnesses of crime – not just domestic abuse victims.
Data sharing between frontline services and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes is part of the Government’s hostile environment – which Liberty and Southall Black Sisters say must be scrapped. The Government has committed to a full review of the ‘hostile or compliant’ environment following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, and this report provides further evidence of its harmful and potentially discriminatory impact.
The impact of data sharing has been particularly damaging during the coronavirus pandemic when those experiencing domestic abuse have faced the double threat of being trapped with their attackers but unable to go to the police.
The report said (page six):
“The UK aspires to be a humane, liberal democracy where the criminal justice system does not punish people for being victims but recognises and protects them. Government policy is clear that victims of crime should be treated without discrimination. We agree with Liberty and Southall Black Sisters that harm is currently being caused to the public interest and that this needs to be addressed.”
“That is why we are recommending a review of the law and policy in this area, to provide clarity to police on their priorities. We also recommend establishing safe reporting pathways, informed by the realities of victims’ experiences, that reflect existing laws on everyone’s right to data protection.”
Read the full report.
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters says:
“This is an excellent and welcome start in engendering confidence in a new system of state accountability in the face of systemic police failure in supporting migrant victims of crime. We are relieved that our complaint about the public harm caused to vulnerable victims of domestic abuse by data sharing between the police and the Home Office has been upheld on every single count. The report confirms our view that the police response to abused migrant women raises serious concerns and may well be discriminatory. We welcome the call for major changes in law, policy and practice so that there is an effective firewall between the police and immigration enforcement.
The outcome also represents yet another nail in the coffin of the government’s hostile (now called compliant) environment, which has once again been found to be seriously harmful. It is also a fitting tribute to the many courageous victims of domestic abuse who came forward to give evidence, and to the tenacious Latin American Women’s Rights Service who lead the Step Up Migrant Women campaign. We now need to see protection measures for migrant victims of abuse legally enshrined in the Domestic Abuse Bill.”
The super-complaint lodged by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters in December 2018 included more than 50 pages of representations and interviews that show:
- There is a strong need for consistent policies and guidance prohibiting data-sharing by all 43 constabularies – with successive policies by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) not up to scratch
- Data from victims and witnesses of crime were frequently shared with immigration enforcement after reporting very serious crimes to the police. The evidence also shows that such actions deter victims from reporting crimes. The complaint asserted this breaches the police’s obligation under human rights law to investigate serious crimes
- Police actions have enabled criminals to weaponise their victim’s immigration status, as they can be coerced into not reporting – trapping victims in situations where they continued to be abused, or are forced to participate in crime
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About Southall Black Sisters
Southall Black Sisters is one of the UK’s leading women’s organisations for black and minority ethnic (BME) women. Established in 1979, we operate an advice, resource, campaigning and advocacy centre. Whilst based in West London, we have a national reach. The bulk of our work is directed at assisting women and children – who are overwhelmingly survivors of domestic and other forms of gender-based violence – to obtain effective protection and to assert their fundamental human rights. In recent years, we have been campaigning for protection measures for migrant women to be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill.