Dame Vera says some of the most vulnerable people in society suffer significant, avoidable harm in fear fear that criminal justice authorities will treat them as a questionable immigrant, not a victim. "This has to stop," she says, "and I am pleased to see HMICFRS has recognised this in its report."
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 recommended that police forces should restrict the sharing with immigration enforcement of information about vulnerable victims of crime.
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 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.
Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, says:
“I congratulate HMICFRS on seeing the immediate need to restrict information sharing with immigration enforcement when police are dealing with a vulnerable victim of crime. Immigration status is used as a weapon by criminals and abusers to deter victims from getting help. People need to be sure that if they need help, they will be treated as victims of crime first and foremost. Currently, many fear that the criminal justice authorities will treat them as a questionable immigrant, not a victim. Many dare not even try to leave abusive relationships or get free from the grip of criminals.
Some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, modern slavery and human trafficking suffer significant, avoidable harm through fear of the very agencies there to support them. This has to stop, and I am pleased to see HMICFRS has recognised this in its report.
This is the first police super-complaint of its kind to be published and I was pleased to have the opportunity to be consulted as a friendly reviewer. Engaging with the Victims Commissioner in that way shows an open and transparent approach from the inspectorate, which is to be commended. I welcome this new, collaborative way of working and I hope it sets a model for going forwards.
We will quickly study in detail what are proposed as the next steps to make this finding a reality and lend our support. The government must surely take this on, in principle, with all its resource. We also need to ensure that migrant victims with no recourse to public funds are able to access victims’ services. The government has promised to introduce a Support For Migrant Victims Scheme and we await further detail on how this will work.”