Police face new laws that will ban intrusive searches of rape victims’ personal records and phones under a government shake-up to reverse plummeting prosecution rates.
Writing in The Telegraph, Sarah Dines, the safeguarding minister, announced that any police officer investigating rape will be breaking the law if they make “unnecessary” or “disproportionate” requests for a victim’s medical, school or counselling records.
Rape victims will also get a new legal right to be told why and what is being requested, and how it will be used, in order to reduce the number who drop out of prosecutions because of intrusive requests by police.
This came on top of legislation banning invasive searches of victims’ mobile phones or other digital data and gives them a legal right to refuse to hand over devices without fearing police will halt their inquiries.
The moves reflect a major shift in the approach to investigating rape from testing the credibility of a witness to focusing on the past behaviour and actions of the alleged attacker.
Any officers who break the new law, and a code of practice that will set out how the legislation will work in practice, will face fines by the Information Commissioner for invasion of privacy, a legal challenge in the courts and disciplinary action by their police force.
The news came amid a huge increase in reported rapes in the wake of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped in 2021 by Wayne Couzens, a serving Metropolitan police officer, in London.
Sexual offences rose 21 per cent to 196,889 in the year to June 2022, the highest number on record according to the Office for National Statistics. Yet, just 1.5 per cent of rapes and 3.1