End to intrusive 'fishing expeditions' of rape victims’ personal records

Victims of rape will no longer face unnecessary and invasive requests from the police to access their therapy notes or other personal records under new legislation.

May 17, 2023
By Paul Jacques

This will end “expansive fishing expeditions” for information that is often not relevant to the investigation and used to undermine the credibility of the victim, says the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

An amendment to the Government’s Victims and Prisoners Bill announced this week will set out clearly in law that police officers should only request material that is absolutely necessary and proportionate to ensure that vulnerable victims are not put off seeking vital support.

To ensure police are abiding by the new law, the Government will also publish a new “robust code of conduct” – with forces that fail to abide by the new rules to face consequences, including possible legal action.

The MoJ says the reforms give “greater clarity” to victims and the police about when information can be requested and “provides survivors of the most heinous crimes with the confidence to access therapy earlier without fear notes could be used against them in court”.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “This important reform will end invasive unnecessary requests for therapy notes for rape victims and give them the confidence to seek the help they need earlier, free from the fear that what they share in the process of healing could be weaponised against them.

“The Victims and Prisoners Bill is ensuring victims are treated as participants in, not just spectators of, the justice system – improving support for them while overhauling the parole system to better protect the public from the most dangerous offenders.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman added: “It is simply unacceptable that victims of some of the most traumatic crimes have had significant amounts of their personal records unnecessarily requested.

“We have been clear that this issue must be addressed through legislation and that’s why we’re making this vital amendment to the Bill. This is just one of the ways we are working across government to improve how the criminal justice system deals with these horrendous crimes.”

The changes follow a Home Office consultation in 2022 which showed almost 90 per cent of respondents were in favour of introducing a statutory duty on police forces to only make necessary and proportionate requests for the disclosure of third-party information.

Justice Minister Edward Argar said: “The Victims and Prisoners Bill will ensure that victims feel listened to and are treated fairly, properly, and with dignity when they come forward to bring their offender to justice.

“The reforms we are announcing today will mean that rape victims know their rights when they are asked to provide personal information like therapy notes.”

Similar restrictions for accessing phone information have already been introduced via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022). Any request has to be necessary and proportionate and where victims do agree to share that information, the majority of forces now have the technology to be able to return their phone to them within 24 hours.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill will also overhaul the parole system by allowing ministers to block the release of the most dangerous offenders including murderers, rapists, and terrorists – putting public protection back as the overriding focus of the parole process.

The Government says it is working to transform the way rape investigations are handled to make sure that all victims have the best support possible throughout the entire process,

Operation Soteria is one of the initiatives driving this change. It is a pioneering programme that brings together academics and the police with the aim of radically transforming the way police and the Crown Prosecution Service deal with rape cases.

There are currently 19 police forces participating in the programme.

The Government says their experiences are informing the development of the new national operating model for the investigation of rape, with a focus on the suspect rather than victims, to be made available from June 2023.

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