United Kingdom

Rape victims will have their phones returned by police within 24 hours

Rape victims will have their phones returned by police within 24 hours as part of a new Government drive to increase convictions for sex attacks, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

A review led by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, due to be published next month, will recommend a raft of measures that shift the focus from the credibility of rape victims towards the suspect's behaviour.

A report by the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham last year concluded that police forces were taking 'excessive amounts of personal data' from victims' phones amid warnings that cases were being dropped due to the intrusive demands.

Rape victims will have their phones returned by police within 24 hours as part of a Government drive to increase convictions for sex attacks, The Mail on Sunday can reveal (stock image)

The report found practices were inconsistent across the country, with some forces downloading data and returning devices hours later, while others held on to phones for months or even years to carry out manual searches.

The Government proposals, backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, will standardise the return of devices to victims within 24 hours. The aim is to cut the number of complainants dropping out of investigations before trial.

In 2019 the National Police Chiefs' Council introduced a consent form, allowing officers to download complainants' mobile phone data, after a series of rape cases collapsed at trial.

The procedure was criticised by some as a 'digital strip search'.

A court judgment last year and the Information Commissioner's report criticising the procedure resulted in the introduction of an amended 'digital processing form' to ensure a more proportionate policing approach.

The Government proposals, backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, will standardise the return of devices to victims within 24 hours (stock image)

Studies have found that many of those accused of rape do not enter a guilty plea until the day of the trial in the hope that traumatised victims will not turn up at court to go through the ordeal.

At present, many complainants have their phones removed for months, leading to victims dropping complaints because they are left without a phone when they most need support from friends and family.

In the year to March 2020, 58,856 cases of rape were recorded by police forces in England and Wales which led to just 2,102 prosecutions, compared with 3,043 in the previous 12 months.

Last month Mr Buckland, a former criminal barrister, announced a new Victims' Code which would allow victims to be informed when an offender leaves prison. It also provided a mechanism for vulnerable victims to be able to pre-record their evidence ahead of a trial to avoid the stress of cross-examination in court.

The code is expected to form the basis of a consultation for a new victims' law later this year.

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