The Home Office has committed to new legislation protecting rape victims from invasive requests for personal records.
Third party information on victims, such as education, medical, social services, and counselling records, can be requested by the police during an investigation.
The Home Office said these requests can be time-consuming and have a severe impact on victims’ confidence as an infringement on their privacy.
Following a public consultation on these issues, the Home Office has committed to introducing new legislation on the way the police can request access to personal data from third parties. This aims to better protect people’s data by ensuring the police and other parties only request this information where this is “absolutely necessary and proportionate”.
There will also be a statutory 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.
“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,” commented Minister for Safeguarding Sarah Dines:
“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.”
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.”
The Home Office said 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.