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Fedster

Information Commissioner's Office to investigate police use of rape victims' data

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Fedster

'This practice not only impacts on complainant's rights to privacy but understandably, their willingness to pursue a case.'.

Dame Vera Baird

Dame Vera Baird

Date - 28th December 2018
By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle
5 Comments5 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.”

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SimonT

I can certainly see where they are coming from. But there are pressures from every side for these offences. 

We must prosecute more, convict more, get disclosure right, safeguard suspects, protect victims and keep others safe and get more victims to come forward but not disclose suspect details and disclose suspect details. 

I would love to see a shakeup and review of the system, of many many systems. But rather than Don't so x, we need a X is the process. Do that. 

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Funkywingnut

Background data is crucial at the early stages of the investigation, not just for the prosecution, but also to discount the vexatious complaints or repeat complaints. We are to get to the truth, not just prove an allegation. 

That said, it is down to the requesting officer to determine what data they need and why. On many occasions victims have refused when requested.

Edited by Funkywingnut

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bensonby

I’ve felt very uneasy for a while about the creeping approach that seems to be applied that seems to be a “seize and sift” of every piece of data that a victim (and even a suspect) may hold. Surely any duh seizure should be a proportionate exercise following identified (or probable) lines of enquiry? In any case, not just sexual offences.

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Lone Wolf

Having read Dame Vera Baird's comments, I'm not sure that she really understands what the exact purpose of the Criminal Justice System is.  Just in case anyone else needs reminding too, it is to determine with almost absolute certainty if a person is guilty of an offence, and then to ensure they are punished accordingly.  This principle is enshrined in basic human rights and cannot be waivered just because of the sensitive nature of the offence under investigation.

Perhaps Baird would be better off investing her energy into determining and addressing what mechanisms in society have led to rape and other sexual offences investigations becoming so contentious, in turn leading to the need for such intrusive lines of enquiry.

All this hot air and bluster making the police the whipping boys here will solve absolutely nothing.  We've already seen the opposite end of the spectrum with the collapse of the Liam Allan case.

Edited by Lone Wolf

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Reasonable Man
Having read Dame Vera Baird's comments, I'm not sure that she really understands what the exact purpose of the Criminal Justice System is.  Just in case anyone else needs reminding too, it is to determine with almost absolute certainty if a person is guilty of an offence, and then to ensure they are punished accordingly.  This principle is enshrined in basic human rights and cannot be waivered just because of the sensitive nature of the offence under investigation.
Perhaps Baird would be better off investing her energy into determining and addressing what mechanisms in society have led to rape and other sexual offences investigations becoming so contentious, in turn leading to the need for such intrusive lines of enquiry.
All this hot air and bluster making the police the whipping boys here will solve absolutely nothing.  We've already seen the opposite end of the spectrum with the collapse of the Liam Allan case.

Accepting all this the question remains why don’t all victims of crime have to sign a Stafford Statement?

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Zulu 22

I understand that it is voluntary but, at the time it is asked for the victim is vulnerable and in a state of shock. They may not be in a position to make a valid decision.  Having said that there have been some extraordinary miscarriages of justice when an accused has been wrongly accused. I am going from memory, and I am not going to search for the actual case, when a woman accused a man of rape.  It just happened that the allegation against him was the fourth allegation made by the victim. The previous allegations had been proved to be false. On the fourth occasion she was prosecuted and received a jail sentence. Admittedly that case was extraordinary but a defendant h's a right to justice before a Court under the rules of evidence. These rules should not be biased or slanted in any direction.  The truth must out. There is such a fine line between consent in so many cases, likewise there are some rape cases which are brutal with no concern for the victim. There are also many cases of repeat and serial offenders and it is viral that justice is served.

Every victim is entitled to justice, as does every defendant. 

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BlueBob

For a starter, I have never had to use a Stafford Statement but appreciate its aim and purpose.  I also understand that it is only used for serious sexual offences, so fairly limited in its remit - open to be advised otherwise.  What a difficult decision to make, so soon after a traumatic event.  As I understand it, it does/can give a fairly care blanche to any and all data about the individual from that point onwards.  On balances it reasonable that its use and extend and limitations is reviewed - I'd say yes.  For all we know, it may extend to other offences - and wouldn't that cause an outcry.
Imagine being asked to do that as a driver following a serious collision - that would certainly open up a few awkward records - or might it just discourage drivers to not report things - that's the difficult decision these victims have to make as well.  
Alas it would be a rapid investigation and swift outcome.

 

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Lone Wolf
12 hours ago, Reasonable Man said:


Accepting all this the question remains why don’t all victims of crime have to sign a Stafford Statement?

I don't know the reason why (if there actually is one), but if there are clear exceptions why it is deemed necessary in rape investigations that doesn't somehow make it imperative for all crimes does it?

People who are actually guilty of all types of crime are acquitted after trial almost routinely, any police officer with a reasonable amount of experience will acknowledge this.  The added social stigma of rape on both victims and the accused will inevitably lead to more contentious trials, it's an undeniable fact.  And so it follows that prosecutors and defence will prepare their cases accordingly.  Who is it who gets caught up in this quagmire?  The investigators (police).

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