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Cop watchers to probe UK police sharing data on witnesses' migration status with Home Office

Handing over info on migration status deters crime reports, say rights groups

UK cops' sharing of data with the Home Office will be probed by oversight bodies following a super-complaint from civil rights groups, it was confirmed today.

At the heart of the issue is the way that victims' and witnesses' data collected by the police are shared with central government immigration teams.

Liberty and Southall Black Sisters last year lodged a super-complaint against the "systemic and potentially unlawful" practices, which allowed criminals to "weaponise" their victims" immigration status.

An investigation by the rights groups found that victims and witnesses were "frequently reported to immigration enforcement after reporting very serious crimes to the police".

This, Liberty said, risked deterring people – even those who do not have uncertain immigration statuses – from reporting crime, especially as the victims or witnesses "can be coerced into not reporting" crimes.

"The effect has been that they stay in situations where they continued to be abused, or are forced to participate in crime," it said.

"The complaint asserts that this breaches the police's obligation under human rights law to investigate serious crimes."

Liberty today announced that police oversight bodies had agreed to investigate the issue as a result of its super-complaint, which can only be lodged by designated consumer bodies when an issue appears to be causing significant harm.

The groups want a complete stop to cross-government data sharing for immigration enforcement. The original complaint also urged a full review of guidance on data sharing and a consistent policy to be applied across all 43 forces in England and Wales, rejecting efforts from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

"Rather than improving things, this practice is now encouraged in terms by the new guidance... it is disingenuous of the NPCC to suggest otherwise," said Liberty solicitor Debaleena Dasgupta when the complaint was submitted last year.

"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."

Liberty proposed this "firewall" idea in its December report into public sector data sharing, arguing that this was the only way to mitigate against the negative impacts of the government's hostile-environment policies.

The group has repeatedly emphasised these impacts go beyond undocumented migrants, but also affect migrants with regular status "who live in a climate of uncertainty and fear" as well as frontline workers in affected professions.

This was exemplified in last year's battle to scrap a deal that saw non-clinical patient records shared with the Home Office as GPs voiced concerns it would break the doctor-patient confidentiality and could stop migrants seeking medical treatment. ®

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