Further Windrush scandals possible in wake of new Home Office rules

Data protection exemptions granted to the Home Office could lead to more immigration scandals on a par with the current Windrush injustices. That is the claim of a number of parties, including civil rights groups, lawyers and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).

The data protection bill will usher in changes that give the Home Office exemptions, preventing people from asking for information regarding their immigration status. This, campaigners say, will throw unnecessary obstacles in the path of those challenging Home Office decisions, leading to more miscarriages of justice.

The new legislation would also lead to less transparency and accountability from the Home Office, with lower data protection standards and the ability to share personal information between public services.

Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary who has been vocal in her condemnation of the Windrush scandal, said of the news: “The latest data protection bill shows that the Windrush scandal is not a mistake. The bill exempts immigration matters from data protection. This can be for anyone who is a migrant, or suspected of being one, as in the Windrush cases.

“They should amend this bill. It is unacceptable that the Government should be pressing ahead with legislation that allows agencies to breach data protection rights for anyone who is suspected of being a migrant. Otherwise they will show they have learned nothing, and are determined to maintain the hostile environment at whatever human cost.”

The advocacy officer of human rights organisation, Liberty, added: “If the data protection bill’s ‘immigration exemption’ becomes law, it will be near-impossible to challenge poor decision-making in immigration cases, or prevent the Home Office destroying evidence that could help people prove their right to be here.”

Replying to the criticism, the Home Office claimed: “It is wrong to say that the proposed narrow exemption in the Data Protection bill is an attempt to deny people access to their data. People will still be able to request data as they can now and will be met in all cases, except those where doing so could undermine our immigration control.”

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