John Edwards, the commissioner of Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has called for excessive data collection from rape victims to stop now.  He believes the current practices seriously breach data protection laws.

In a strongly worded statement Mr Edwards said he expects excessive data collection from rape victims to stop immediately saying:

“Our investigation reveals an upsetting picture of how victims of rape and serious sexual assault feel treated. Victims are being treated as suspects, and people feel revictimised by a system they expect to support them.  Change is required to rebuild trust that will enable more victims to seek the justice to which they’re entitled. I know the sector will support these recommendations. Change is possible and it must happen. The law requires it and my office will push for it.”

He has also made recommendations on how data should be handled in such cases.  These recommendations include:

– The National Police Chiefs’ Council are to make it mandatory that all police forces throughout the UK stop using statements or forms indicating general consent to obtain third party materials (i.e. ‘Stafford statements’) so victims and survivors aren’t being asked to give up more personal data than is strictly necessary,

– The National Police Chiefs’ Council are to work with the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service to produce advice and supporting forms for police forces to use across England and Wales when requesting personal information from third parties.

– Chief Constables of forces across the UK should be able to demonstrate compliance with data protection legislation when processing information relating to victims of rape and serious sexual offences.

– A more standardised approach to data collection across police forces nationally should be introduced to give officers a better understanding of appropriate and acceptable practices.

– Chief Constables are to take ownership of data protection policies and assume full accountability.

These recommendations have been welcomed by Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales:

“The police and CPS often request and at times, demand unreasonable and excessive amounts of personal data from rape victims and survivors, infringing on their privacy rights and causing additional emotional distress.  The Commissioner’s recommendations have the potential to drastically improve the experiences of victims and survivors going through the criminal justice process. These changes could support the police and CPS to prioritise victims’ rights and ensure they have a voice.  The ICO report has come at a crucial time and shows that the current approach to personal data collection is part of the culture in the criminal justice system that is harming victims and survivors. Now is the time for radical and immediate change.”

The reason for the ICO’s strong stance is that they feel they have evidence that suggests the excessive collection of highly personal and often irrelevant information like school, medical and social service records can cause victims to withdraw their allegations.

More worryingly the ICO claims current processes have led to alarmingly low charge and conviction rates for serious sexual offenses.

If this blog has raised any questions or you would like to discuss a case of sexual assault with one of our specialist criminal barristers, please contact us today.

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