10:36, March 29 72 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-29 10:36:05
Police watchdogs to investigate forces over immigration referrals

Police watchdogs are to investigate forces over the sharing of data on victims and witnesses of crime with immigration enforcement authorities, the Guardian can reveal.

The move comes after the rights groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters lodged the first ever super-complaint against the police, challenging what they said was a potentially unlawful and harmful practice.

The super-complaint process became operational last year and allows designated organisations to raise issues on behalf of the public about harmful patterns or trends in policing.

After an eligibility assessment, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have launched an investigation.

Debaleena Dasgupta, a lawyer at Liberty, said: “Referring victims of crime to the Home Office to enforce the hostile environment policy is not only cruel, it is arguably a breach of the police’s duties.

“This practice means victims are too scared to report serious crimes and witnesses may be forced to withhold information that could be vital in police investigations.

“The evidence gathered shows that even when crimes are reported, the police are prioritising minor immigration enforcement actions over investigating the more serious crimes that have been brought to their attention.

“This leaves perpetrators free to offend with impunity and we are all less safe as a result. Liberty is pleased that this super-complaint will be investigated and we hope it will bring us a step closer to ending this practice .”

After the investigation has been concluded, the three organisations may decide to launch an inspection by HMIC, an investigation by IOPC, provide recommendations – for example, that another public body is better placed to deal with the issue, or that the police should change their policies or working practices or find that the super-complaint is either unfounded or needs no further action.

Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, said: “We welcome the decision by the [HMIC] to accept our super-complaint on police use of immigration enforcement as a ‘safeguarding’ measure.

“We now want to see a transparent and thorough investigation into the question of how and when the police decided to enforce a policy that focuses on reporting vulnerable migrant women to the immigration authorities instead of offering protection and apprehending abusive perpetrators. This is an issue of serious public concern since it undermines trust in the criminal justice system.”

After learning that forces were likely to face a challenge over the issue, the National Police Chiefs Council issued new guidance. The measures for England and Wales included a ban on officers checking the police national computer solely to learn if someone has leave to remain in the UK.

However, lawyers for Liberty claimed the new guidance did not go far enough to protect victims and witnesses of crime.