Liberty and Southall Black Sisters call for investigation into data sharing in first Police Super-Complaint

20 December 2018

Liberty and Southall Black Sisters this week lodged the first-ever Super-Complaint against systemic and potentially unlawful data sharing practices between the police and Home Office immigration enforcement teams, which discriminates against victims and witnesses, and undermines the fight against crime.

Liberty and Southall Black Sisters have amassed over 50 pages of representations and interviews that show in detail how:

  • There is a strong need for consistent policies and guidance prohibiting data-sharing by all 43 constabularies. Having reviewed the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) guidance released ahead of this complaint being made public, it is clear that it does not solve fundamental problems.     
  • Victims and witnesses of crime were frequently reported to immigration enforcement after reporting very serious crimes to the police. The evidence also shows that such actions deter victims from reporting crimes, thereby countering the police’s broader objectives and duties. As a result, the complaint asserts that this breaches the police’s obligation under human rights law to investigate serious crimes.
  • The police’s actions have allowed criminals to weaponise their victim’s immigration status, as they can be coerced into not reporting. The effect has been that they stay in situations where they continued to be abused, or are forced to participate in crime.

The deterrent effect of data-sharing goes beyond the target group of people with uncertain immigration status. Criminals who are not reported are not investigated and thus free to commit crimes against other members of the public.

Liberty Solicitor Debaleena Dasgupta said:

“Data-sharing undermines the police response to crime, which endangers us all by allowing criminals to act with near impunity. Rather than improving things, this practice is now encouraged in terms by the new guidance, despite the announcement last week – it is disingenuous of the NPCC to suggest otherwise.

“The only acceptable solution is the formal creation of a “firewall” – a cast-iron promise that personal information collected about victims and witnesses by public services like the police will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.”

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters said:

“We have seen the police repeatedly prioritise immigration enforcement, ahead of the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable women who report domestic and sexual violence. Immigration enforcement is being conflated with safeguarding issues but let us be clear about this: reporting and detaining women or men as a ‘safeguarding’ measure is nothing of the sort – it is a violation of their civil and human rights. Immigration enforcement masquerading as ‘safeguarding’ heightens the multiple risks that abused women face and re-traumatises them. This is the direct outcome of the ‘hostile environment’ policy adopted by this and previous governments. If the government is to make good its promise to protect all women and other vulnerable victims from violence and harm, then it needs to ensure that there is a complete firewall between the police and other statutory services and immigration enforcement. Anything less is simply not acceptable. Anything less sends the message to migrant women that they are less worthy of protection.”

What is the super complaints system?

The super-complaints system became operational in November 2018. It is overseen by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICRFS).

Only a limited list of 16 ‘Designated Bodies’ have been given super-complainant status.  These include both Liberty and Southall Black Sisters.

The complaint will be reviewed before investigation by a joint team from HMICFRS, the Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC) and the College of Policing.

Care Don’t Share – a “firewall” to stop all government data-sharing with the Home Office

The full extent of backroom data-sharing deals between key government departments and the Home Office was recently revealed a new report by Liberty.

The report – drawn from year-long research, interviews and freedom of information requests – shows in unprecedented detail how, across the education, health and policing systems, secretive agreements were made to enable the sharing of people’s personal data.

This means private information belonging to thousands of people can be unknowingly used against them by immigration officials seeking to deport them or limit their access to important care as part of the Government’s “hostile environment” policy.

The effect is that now many people, including children, are often too scared to access vital services, and that public sector workers are often unknowingly complicit in a system – made possible in part by discriminatory exemptions in data protection law - that deprives people of some of their most basic rights.

As a result, Liberty has launched its “Care Don’t Share” campaign, which calls on public sectors workers, unions and members of the public to sign a pledge and support the creation of a data “firewall” – a cast-iron promise that personal information collected by trusted public services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.