Hostile environment data-sharing

Police Inspectorate backs call for law change to protect migrant victims and witnesses of crime

Posted on 17 Dec 2020

  • Inspectorate upholds super-complaint by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters
  • Police data-sharing puts migrants at risk
  • Groups call for 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) upheld the groups’ complaint, including concerns over:

  • How data-sharing between the police and Home Office deters some migrant victims or witness 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 report abuse

In response HMICFRS 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 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 by HMICFRS, College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct said (page 6):

“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.”

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, said:

“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.”

Lara ten Caten, Liberty lawyer, said:

“We should all be able to seek help when we need it – and this report takes us one step closer to making sure that happens. Right now, data-sharing between the police and Home Office leaves many afraid to report crimes in case they or their loved ones have their data shared with immigration enforcement as a result.

“The demand for change has been growing for some time and this report makes it impossible for the Government and police to ignore any longer. We are calling for police and the Government to go further than the recommendations in this report by committing to a data firewall to safeguard all victims and witnesses of crime – not just domestic abuse victims

“This is just one example of how cruel the hostile environment is. It’s impossible to have a hostile environment which doesn’t result in human rights abuses. It must be scrapped.”

A survivor who was supported by Southall Black Sisters, said:

“I was very scared to go the police before but if we know that the police won’t share our information with the Home Office, we can go to the police without being frightened. This means that I no longer have to hide and I don’t have to suffer on my own. There are a lot of women like me who are scared and in the same situation and now we will have hope that we will be believed and be helped in the right way.”

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