Rape Victims: Disclosure of Evidence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe 4:33 pm, 29th April 2019

I thank the Minister for his response. I have indeed read the document to which he refers. Rape is among the most serious and heinous of crimes, carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Victims of all crimes frequently feel that they are treated more like the accused. For example, they are required to provide fingerprints for the purposes of elimination and asked to give their consent for their medical records to be disclosed, and rape victims have to undergo intimate medical examinations after suffering the most appalling violations. However, it is the way in which we deal with these requests that is critical. What we must not do is issue a blanket demand for the handover of mobile phones and other digital devices and then threaten to discontinue a case if a victim, especially a rape victim, refuses to hand them over.

Will the Minister answer the following questions? Will he withdraw this document, because it is going to deter victims of rape in particular from coming forward? Will he ensure that there is no blanket request for rape victims—or, indeed, any other victims—to hand over phones and other digital devices? Instead, will he ensure that any request of victims—in particular, the victims of rape and other sexual offences—is made only if the investigation, including the account of the accused, has been properly looked at and it is the view of the investigating officer, having considered all the material, that such a request should be made? Will the Minister withdraw any document that states—and condemn all assertions—that cases will be dropped if the victim does not agree to hand over any material or device to the police? Does he agree that those threats are unacceptable?

Will the Minister confirm that it is already the practice of Crown Court judges to ask, at the plea and trial preparation hearing, whether all digital material has been obtained and preserved? Does he agree that if the existing law, guidance and practice directions on disclosure were followed, they would do justice to both the victim and the accused, and that their being followed properly by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would ensure that further distress and threats to rape victims and other victims of crime would not be necessary?