Police given new guidelines on gathering evidence from rape victims’ phones

Minister claims that new Code of practice outlines that investigations must ‘focus on the suspect, not the victim’

Credit: Ylanite Koppens/Pixabay    Image has been cropped

A new code of practice for police officers aims to protect rape victims from “invasive requests” for their devices and data, the government has claimed.

The guidance, which relates to powers invested in law enforcement by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, was put before parliament yesterday.

The legislative update is intended to formalise the government’s intent that victims of rape and sexual assault “should only be asked for their phones where necessary, proportionate and as part of a reasonable line of enquiry”.

“The powers will also mean that the police must tell victims why they want their devices and what information they are looking for,” the government added. “They will also have to make sure victims know that they can refuse the request without it resulting in their case being automatically dropped.”

The code was informed by the results of a nine-week consultation that took place earlier this summer. The exercise is part of a wider programme of work through which the Home Office wishes “to transform the way rape and sexual assault cases are investigated and prosecuted” – enabling more protection of victims and higher prosecution rates.

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The implementation of the code of practice is “a significant step forward in balancing the privacy rights of victims with effective investigations, to ensure more perpetrators are brought to justice”, the department said.

Safeguarding minister Mims Davies added: “It is vital victims are treated with utmost sensitivity and respect when reporting crimes, so that more victims feel able to come forward. These new measures are part of our commitment to ensuring police investigate crimes against women and girls thoroughly, with a clear focus on the suspect, not the victim.”

The way in which evidence is gathered from the devices of rape victims has been the subject of much criticism in recent years. This includes a public intervention made by the UK’s information commissioner John Edwards during the consultation process, during which he issued a statement calling for law-enforcement to put an immediate stop to the practice of collecting excessive amounts of personal data from rape and sexual assault victims, who he said are currently “being treated as suspects”.

“Victims are being told to consent to handing over extraordinary amounts of information about their lives, in the immediate aftermath of a life-changing attack,” Edwards said. 


Sam Trendall

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