Safe to share? Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status

Published on: 17 December 2020


On 18 December 2018, Liberty and Southall Black Sisters made a super-complaint to HMICFRS.

This super-complaint concerns migrant victims in vulnerable circumstances. They usually arise from crimes of domestic abuse or modern slavery and human trafficking.

The super-complaint put forward by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters is about the treatment of victims of crime and witnesses with insecure immigration status. It focuses on how information about them is passed to the Home Office for immigration enforcement. It concerns two features of policing:

  • the passing of victim and witness data to the Home Office by the police for immigration enforcement purposes; and
  • the operation of and/or perception of a culture of police prioritising immigration enforcement over safeguarding and the investigation of crime.

Liberty and Southall Black Sisters say that these features deter victims and witnesses engaging with the police because of their unsettled immigration status. As a consequence, victims are denied justice, while offenders go unpunished and remain a threat to the public.

What is a super-complaint?

A super-complaint is a complaint that “a feature, or combination of features, of policing in England and Wales by one or more than one police force is, or appears to be, harming the interests of the public” (section 29A, Police Reform Act 2002).

The system aims to examine problems of local, regional or national significance that may not be addressed by existing complaints systems. The process for making and considering a super-complaint is outlined in the Police Super-complaints Regulations 2018.

Super-complaints provide a voice for designated bodies to raise concerns on behalf of the public. They can include patterns or trends in policing that are, or appear to be, harming the interests of the public.

HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) are responsible for assessing, investigating and reporting on police super-complaints. We have collaborated on the investigation and on drawing conclusions. It raises complex concerns that may not otherwise have been a focus of our combined work.

Background: policing and immigration status

People with uncertain immigration status face difficulties in reporting crime to the police. This has been the subject of increasing attention in recent years.

Until 2018, there was no specific guidance for police on the appropriate response to victims or witnesses of all crime types.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), is a co-ordinating body for the police service in England and Wales. They addressed this gap in October 2018 with a guidance paper for the police service. The NPCC is not a legal entity and has no statutory powers.

They provided a revised version of this paper to this investigation in June 2020. Liberty and Southall Black Sisters say that the guidance does not stop the sharing of data of victims and witnesses of crime with the Home Office. It is unclear what status the guidance has and whether it has been adopted by all forces.

Liberty and Southall Black Sisters propose several solutions to the problems in the super-complaint.

Get the report

Safe to share? Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status

Get the press release

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

Find out more about super-complaints

Police super-complaints

Get the police and crime commissioners' responses to the report

Durham PCC’s response

Dyfed-Powys PCC’s response (PDF document)

Nottinghamshire PCC’s response (PDF document)

South Wales PCC’s response

Surrey PCC’s response

Find out why we publish PCC responses.

Get the free PDF Reader from Adobe (external link).