Police Banned From ‘Fishing Expeditions’ in Rape Cases

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The police will no longer be allowed to request “unnecessary and invasive” access to rape victims’ personal materials such as therapy notes, under legislation put forward by the government.

Under an amendment to the government’s Victims and Prisoners Bill, police should only request material that is “absolutely necessary and proportionate” to ensure that vulnerable victims are not put off seeking vital support.

The amendment is intended to end “expansive fishing expeditions for information” that is often not relevant to the investigation and used to undermine the credibility of the victim, said the Ministry of Justice in a statement.

It will provide victims with the confidence to access therapy earlier without fear notes could be used against them in court, the ministry said.

‘Simply Unacceptable’

In a statement, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “It is simply unacceptable that victims of some of the most traumatic crimes have had significant amounts of their personal records unnecessarily requested.

“We have been clear that this issue must be addressed through legislation and that’s why we’re making this vital amendment to the bill. This is just one of the ways we are working across government to improve how the criminal justice system deals with these horrendous crimes.”

Epoch Times Photo
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk leaving 10 Downing Street in London, on April 21, 2023. (Aaron Chown/PA Media)

Opening a House of Commons debate on the bill on Monday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “I know that routine police requests for therapy notes or other personal records can be incredibly distressing for victims—they can feel as if they are the ones under scrutiny. Some may even be deterred from seeking support for fear of their personal records being shared.

“Our bill will make sure that these requests are only made when strictly necessary for the purposes of a fair trial.”

New Safeguard

The bill also grants new powers to protect the public from dangerous prisoners, including allowing the justice secretary to block their release.

Chalk said the bill would “impose a new safeguard, a new check and balance in respect of the top tier of the most serious offenders drawn from murderers, rapists, child killers, and terrorists.”

He added: “In those cases, where there is a Parole Board recommendation to release a prisoner, the bill will allow the secretary of state to intervene on behalf of the public to stay that release to enable ministers to take a second look.”

The bill would also introduce a new independent public advocate to represent the families and victims of disasters which have involved public authorities, like the Grenfell Tower fire or the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

‘Wasted Opportunity’

But the opposition Labour Party called the bill a “wasted opportunity.”

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said: “It’s eight years and eight justice secretaries since the Conservatives first promised legislation to support victims.

“For all that time, Labour has been telling them to act. Now, finally, we have a bill, but I am afraid it is a wasted opportunity because it fails in so many ways to rebalance the scales of justice and make a real difference for victims.

“The bill lets down rape survivors. It offers no specialist legal advice or advocacy that will help them to navigate the justice system.”

Reed said Labour will propose an amendment offering free legal advice for rape survivors, adding: “We want to make sure that survivors are supported every single step of the way, from when they first report a rape at a police station right through to trial.

“It can’t be right that so many rape survivors describe their experience in court as so traumatising that it feels like they are the ones who are on trial.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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