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Better protection for rape victims from invasive record requests

The Home Office will legislate to protect people, including rape victims, from unnecessary requests for personal records.

Victims will be better protected from invasive requests for personal records, including during rape investigations, the Safeguarding Minister announced today (20 January).

Third party information on victims, such as education, medical, social services and counselling records, can be requested by the police during an investigation. These requests can be time-consuming and have a severe impact on victims’ confidence as an infringement on their privacy.

The government ran a public consultation on these police requests, in which experts across the sector including victims’ groups shared their views.

Today the Home Office published its response to the consultation, which includes a commitment to introduce new legislation on the way the police can request access to personal data from third parties. This will better protect people’s data by ensuring the police and other parties only request this information where this is absolutely necessary and proportionate.

Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines said:

We know that sexual abuse investigations have a significant psychological impact on victims, and it is wrong that victims of some of the most traumatic crimes are having significant amounts of their personal records unnecessarily requested.

This new legislation and guidance will support the police to ensure all requests are completely necessary, and that we can protect victims and deliver justice more quickly.

Respondents to the consultation were supportive of the government’s plans for new legislation, which will put on a statutory footing the police’s duty to only request material that is necessary and proportionate, in addition to a duty to inform people about what type of information is being requested, why, and how it will be used. These duties will be further clarified in a code of practice to aid the police in fulfilling their duties.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Disclosure lead, ACC Tim De Meyer, said:

Police investigators must sometimes seek third party information in order to ensure that they impartially follow all potential leads in an investigation. Third party information might support the prosecution case or be required to see that there is a fair trial. The need to seek third party information depends on the circumstances of the case.

Forces are committed to bringing offenders to justice while treating victims with sensitivity and respect during an investigation, and so policing welcomes the new proposals. It will enable officers to carry out thorough investigations which preserve the absolute right to a fair trial, while respecting the right to privacy of all parties.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:

We know from our investigations that the excessive collection of information from victims of rape and serious sexual assault leaves people feeling revictimised by a system they expected to support them.

The steps set out by government show that change is possible, and alongside work by police and broader work across the UK, we believe progress can be made to prevent victims feeling as though they are being treated as suspects.

If the police fail to abide by the statutory duties included in the legislation, they would be in breach of the law and could be open to legal challenge.

The new legislation will help to fulfil a commitment in the government’s End-to-End Rape Review Action Plan to reduce unnecessary and disproportionate requests for personal records, and forms part of the government’s wider commitment to increasing charge and prosecution volumes for adult rape cases and putting the victims’ needs at the centre of investigations.

This new commitment follows the changes the government has already delivered to address concerns surrounding sensitive information taken from victims’ phones. The new powers introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022), and accompanying code of practice, ensure that all requests for phones and other devices are necessary, proportionate and that victims are given the information they need to make a decision that is right for them before they are asked to volunteer their device. Where victims do agree to share information, the majority of forces are now in the position to ensure they are not without a phone for more than 24 hours, which is another means of improving victim wellbeing in investigations.

The government is also funding Operation Soteria, a programme which brings together academics and police forces, and aims to radically transform the way police and the Crown Prosecution Service deal with rape – shifting the focus onto the suspect, rather than the victim. With the aim of publishing a new national operating model for the investigation of rape in June 2023, academics were brought into 5 ‘pathfinder’ police forces to work alongside frontline police officers and develop new tools for improvement.

Operation Soteria is already showing early indicators of change, including stronger collaboration with prosecutors, improved organisational capability and more specialist knowledge of sexual offending being applied to investigations. A further 14 forces are now participating in the programme.

This is all alongside government action such as offering pre-recorded evidence for rape victims to every Crown Court in England and Wales, sparing them the trauma of testifying during live trial; and committing to quadrupling funding for victim support services by 2025 compared to 2010, including investment to increase the number of independent sexual violence advisors and independent domestic violence advisors to over 1,000 by 2024/25.

The government will pursue the new legislation on requests for third party material when parliamentary time allows.

Notes to editors

Government response to the consultation on police requests for third party material

Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/home-office

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/better-protection-for-rape-victims-from-invasive-record-requests

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