Police to Withdraw Forms Requesting Access to Alleged Rape Victims’ Digital Devices

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Forms requesting consent for police and prosecutors to examine alleged rape victims’ phones and other devices will be withdrawn after activists likened them to “digital strip searches”.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has told top police brass to withdraw and replace the forms in August, after the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham claimed their legal basis was not made sufficiently clear to alleged victims.

They were introduced after an alarming number of people previously convicted or facing trial for rape and sexual assault were exonerated when messages and so on emerged which had been “deliberately” withheld from the defence, but activists complained that following the scandal women were being told their allegations may not be investigated if they would not agree to an examination of “irrelevant” data.

“We are relieved that these forms have finally been withdrawn from use, but they should never have been used in the first place,” commented Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) which brought the legal challenge against the disclosure requests in 2019 on behalf of two women named, possibly pseudonymously, as “Courtney” and “Olivia”, in comments reported by The Times.

“Their effect has been to delay rape cases and deter many victims from coming forward or continuing with their cases,” Wistrich added.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council will introduce interim replacements for the forms from August 13th, pending consultation with “stakeholders”.

“It is important that this process is consistent for investigators across the country. No victim should feel discouraged from reporting a crime to the police,” confirmed Tim De Meyer, the lead on disclosure at the NPCC.

“Searches of digital devices should not be automatic and will happen only when the investigating officer or prosecutor considers there to be a need to access information to pursue a reasonable line of enquiry. We will still explain this process fully to victims and witnesses,” he added.

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