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 Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 4:33 pm, 29th April 2019

I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions. She is of course absolutely right to describe rape as a heinous crime. She is also right to remind the House that there is nothing new about requesting personal, highly sensitive information from those alleging the crime. She is also absolutely right that that needs to be done with the utmost sensitivity. She may have a different perspective—views may differ around the House—but I believe that the police have made considerable improvements over recent years in that respect.

I have read the document, and the right hon. Lady has asked me to withdraw it. It is not my document, because the process is led by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. What I can say to her, concerned as she is about the risk that the process might lead to those alleging rape not coming forward, is that an impact assessment has been carried out and we will take a strong interest in it. It is not a blanket request. As she knows, the police and the CPS proceed on a case-by-case basis. They have a heavy responsibility to pursue reasonable lines of inquiry and to make such a request only when they consider it relevant.

The right hon. Lady referred to the language in the document, and I think she asserted that the police were suggesting that if someone did not hand over their phone it would not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue. I may be misrepresenting her, but that is what I heard. Language is important, as she knows, and the document states:

“If you refuse permission for the police to investigate, or for the prosecution to disclose material which could enable the defendant to have a fair trial then it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue.”

I have discussed that with the police, and they see it as a reasonable statement of fact, but the language used is sensitive and can be discussed with the police and others to see how it may be improved.

My final point comes to the fundamental underlying issue. As the right hon. Lady and everyone in the House knows, we have had a long history of failure in relation to the disclosure system, which sits at the heart of our criminal justice system and public confidence and trust in it. There has to be a response, and the CPS and the police are working closer than ever before on this. The national disclosure improvement plan, which is now in its second phase, is an extremely credible piece of work, and it fits with that work to try to rebuild confidence in our criminal justice system. She knows that there is a balance to be struck between pursuing reasonable lines of inquiry and protecting privacy, and I believe that the police, with the best of intentions, have tried to strike the right balance, but they are open to improving it if improvement is needed.