Immediate action needed by government and police to ensure vulnerable migrant victims of crime can confidently report to police - report

Published: 17 Dec 2020

Police forces should restrict the sharing with immigration enforcement of information about vulnerable victims of crime, such as domestic abuse, a new report has recommended.

A joint investigation by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that victims of crime with insecure or uncertain immigration status are fearful that, if they report crimes to the police, their information will be shared with the Home Office.

The report was published following a policing super-complaint, submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters about the practice of the police sharing of victims’ immigration information with the Home Office. This is the first police super-complaint investigation to be published.

The investigation raises concerns about the effect the sharing of immigration information between police and the Home Office has on victims of crime with unsettled immigration status.

The investigation found that the current system was causing significant harm to the public interest.

The investigation looked at migrant victims in highly vulnerable circumstances – usually arising from crimes of domestic abuse or modern slavery and human trafficking – and found that there are inconsistent approaches to information sharing between police and the Home Office about victims and witnesses to crime.

The investigation’s recommendations included:

• where officers only have concerns or doubts about a domestic abuse victim’s immigration status, they should immediately stop sharing with Immigration Enforcement information on those victims;

• the Home Office should review the relevant legal framework and policy to establish sound and fair priorities regarding migrant victims of crime and migrant witnesses to crime, with insecure or uncertain immigration status;

• the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council should develop a safeguarding protocol about the police approach to migrant victims and witnesses of crime; and

• the police should establish safe reporting pathways for all migrant victims and witnesses to crime.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor said: “Victims should have every confidence in approaching the police for protection. They should expect and receive protection at times when they are vulnerable and so desperately need the assistance of the agents of the state. Victims should never be in a position where they fear the actions of the police could unintentionally but severely intensify their vulnerability and thereby strengthen the hands of organised criminals and others whose motives and objectives are to inspire fear and do them harm.”

Mike Cunningham, College of Policing CEO, said: “The report on the super-complaint submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters is the first of its kind to be published and has been a collaborative effort between the organisations involved. The report found that policing is committed to investigating crimes that affect vulnerable people and seeks to make victims safer.

“Unfortunately, the lack of clarity about the circumstances in which information will be shared with Immigration Enforcement may lead to fear among victims who have insecure or uncertain immigration status, usually because they entered the UK on a spousal visa or work permit, that they will be investigated for immigration offences. This can dissuade victims from reporting to police, stopping them from getting the support and protection they need, but also enabling abusers to continue their behaviour unchallenged.

“The College will work with the Home Office and National Police Chiefs’ Council to develop briefings so that the circumstances in which information should be shared with Immigration Enforcement are clear. We hope that the clarity will reassure victims of crime about how allegations will be investigated and encourage them to come forward to report.”

IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said: “First and foremost, victims of crime deserve to be protected. Victims must have confidence that, regardless of their immigration status, their allegations will be robustly investigated and given a high priority.

“Domestic abuse is a horrific crime and it is deeply concerning that we found vulnerable people were afraid to report crimes for fear of information being shared with immigration enforcement.

“Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ ongoing advocacy for those who otherwise felt voiceless has helped identify important learning opportunities for the police and the Home Office. We hope the super-complaints system will help drive change in policing.”

Following this investigation, HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the IOPC have made recommendations for the police, NPCC, APCC and the Home Office to ensure victims of crime are always treated as victims first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status. The report also includes actions for HMICFRS and the College of Policing regarding their own work.

  • Domestic abuse