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CPS, Big Brother is Watching You!

(Posted on 15/11/18)

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CPS, Big Brother is Watching You!

Following on from our story last month about London’s Victims Commissioner raising the issue of consent for police access to personal records with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), campaigners are now demanding a full investigation into “antiquated and wrong” demands for access to rape victims’ mobile phone data and records.

In a letter seen by The Independent, Big Brother Watch argues that the so-called ‘Stafford’ statements of consent could breach data protection and human rights law, and voiced fears that the the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has raised the bar for sexual offence cases to reach court.

“At a time when more women and men than ever are pursuing justice against sex offenders, the justice system is letting them down, said Silkie Carlo, director of the privacy campaign group, “Victims of any other type of crime are not asked to put their private lives on trial – reserving that approach for victims of sexual assaults is antiquated and wrong. 

“These digital interrogations obstruct justice, deny victims their basic rights, and swamp police in masses of irrelevant data they cannot handle. We urge the ICO to investigate this issue as a matter of priority.”

Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer who recently represented John Worboys’ victims, added that cases referred to the Centre for Women’s Justice “illustrate the totally disproportionate and potentially unlawful accessing of personal data of those complaining of sexual offences.

“This approach will only reverse progress made in encouraging women to come forward to report rape and serves to re-enforce a culture of victim blaming and impunity for rapists.”

Two years ago, Kent Police were fined £80,000 after a victim of domestic abuse handed over her phone, containing a single video supporting her accusation, but files including text messages and photographs were then downloaded and passed on to her partner via his lawyer.

In July of this year, the Justice Committee found that failure of police and prosecutors to properly disclose evidence to defence lawyers could cause the collapse of trials or miscarriages of justice: “As well as the human cost, this wastes valuable resources and has potentially life-changing implications for individuals involved which of course cannot be quantified in merely financial terms.”

The Criminal Bar Association argued that a claimant’s credibility must be examined when one “person is saying that something happened and another person is saying that it did not”.

The committee concluded that “the right to a fair trial is an absolute right which cannot be violated to protect the right to privacy,” but called for greater clarity for police and prosecutors.

Big Brother Watch called on the ICO to “examine the protection of data pertaining to complainants of sexual violence holistically, from the initial police investigation and the personal data the police transfer to the CPS, through to subsequent disclosure by the CPS to the defence”.