Rape victims to be told they can refuse to hand over phones to police under new laws

Victims already have the right to refuse to provide information to the police. Credit: PA

Rape victims will be informed that they have a legal right to refuse to give their phones to police under new laws going through parliament.

Victims of sexual crimes have described being put under pressure by police and prosecutors to hand over their phones because of the chance they may have sent private messages which undermine their evidence.

Although this is voluntary, victims have sometimes been told the case will be closed if they do not comply, with some withdrawing as they are uncomfortable handing over private data to the authorities.

On Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab put forward amendments to their policing Bill which state that the police must not place any undue pressure on a victim in order to get their agreement.

The amendment sets out what information must be given to a victim in writing before they agree to hand over their device, including why it is being sought.

They will also be told what "reasonable" line of enquiry officers are pursuing.

The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have been approached for comment.

Priti Patel and Dominic Raab put forward amendments to their policing Bill. Credit: PA

The proposed amendments come after Dame Vera Baird, the victims' commissioner, called for police and prosecutors to concentrate on the actions of the alleged attacker rather than testing the validity of the victim's claims.

Over the past decade, successful prosecutions have become such a rarity that in 2019/20 just 2.6% of all police recorded rapes ended in a conviction.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition argued the CPS moved away from a "merits-based approach". Credit: PA

Intrusive police investigations into digital communications and lengthy court delays are among the factors attributed to low rape prosecutions.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition claimed that, between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors became more risk-averse and shifted towards an "unlawful predictive approach when deciding whether to charge" alleged sexual offences. Their lawyers said this approach has led to a "shocking and unprecedented decline in both the rate and volume of rape offences charged by the CPS".

Many victims of sexual abuse have endured uphill battles with the justice system after coming forward with a complaint.

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