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  1. 'This practice not only impacts on complainant's rights to privacy but understandably, their willingness to pursue a case.'. Dame Vera Baird Date - 28th December 2018 By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle 5 Comments The Police and Crime Commissioners national lead for victims has welcomed a probe into how police handle rape victims’ personal information. Deputy Commissioner for Operations James Dipple-Johnstone announced the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation as victims and campaigners complained about excessive use of their sensitive data. In particular the ICO is focussing on the practice of asking victims to sign a Stafford Statement, often in the immediate aftermath of being assaulted, giving blanket access to their personal information. It gives unrestricted access to victims’ medical, education, psychiatric, social service and family court proceedings records dating back decades. Mr Dipple-Johnstone said: “Victims of serious sexual offence crimes are particularly vulnerable, and it’s crucial that the rights they have in law are upheld in order to maintain confidence in the UK’s criminal justice system and their continued willingness to come forward and report crimes. “But we are also aware of the challenges faced by the authorities in order to balance the right to a fair trial with the privacy rights of victims. “As part of our investigation we believe it’s important to track the journey victims’ information takes through the criminal justice system, from allegation, through disclosure and onto any compensation application that may be made. "This is to identify areas where victims’ information is most vulnerable or where processing may be excessive and disproportionate. “This is a complex and challenging area and involves some of the most sensitive personal data gathered by the state. The principle and basis of consent in these circumstances is a key element of our investigation.” The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) victims lead and Northumbria PCC Dame Vera Baird has long campaigned for an end to Stafford Statements- which only sexual assault victims are asked to sign. Last month at the APCC summit she spoke passionately on the subject, telling of how CPS will often refuse to press charges without a Stafford Statement regardless of the quality of evidence and how defence lawyers ransacked the school records of adult complainants. She said: “Complainants of sexual offences are often scrutinised to a level unseen in any other type of criminal offence. A complainant’s signature on a ‘Stafford Statement’ is often requested shortly after they give their first video-recorded account of their experience, often when the complainant is in a state of trauma and does not fully understand what they are signing. “This practice not only impacts on complainant’s rights to privacy but understandably, their willingness to pursue a case. “There has been much focus on the downloading of a complainant’s mobile phone. However, this is just one area of possible intrusion and I am pleased to see that the ICO has acknowledged that there are possible data breaches – as well as potential breaches of a complainant’s human rights – in the obtaining of other personal material. “I stand ready to assist the ICO in any way possible and I look forward to hearing the findings of this inquiry, which I hope will be informed by the experiences of complainants and other parties involved in the criminal justice process, so that some clarity in this area can be established.” Campaign group Big Brother Watch were among the organisations who raised concerns about the widespread use of Stafford Statements. Legal and policy officer Griff Ferris said: “We welcome the information commissioner’s announcement of a high-priority investigation into demands for rape victims’ mobile phones and private records. “We also urge the police and the CPS to take action to protect victims of rape from these digital investigations, which are swamping police in irrelevant information and obstructing the prosecution of potentially dangerous offenders. “Treating victims like suspects is an affront to justice and a serious breach of people’s privacy rights. “This broken system must change.” View On Police Oracle
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