Skip to main content

Rape Victims: Privacy Rights

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

18. What steps his Department is taking to protect the privacy rights of rape victims in criminal justice processes. (901594)

19. What steps his Department is taking to protect the privacy rights of rape victims in criminal justice processes. (901595)

It is paramount that victims come forward without fear that their privacy will be violated. That is why we are taking steps, through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, to create a statutory restriction that limits police requests to third-party material that is necessary and proportionate, and to inform victims of why such material is being requested. The Government have also asked the Law Commission to undertake a review on the use of evidence in sexual offence prosecutions, and it is due to report later this year.

My constituent had all her counselling records used against her in a harrowing trial that she said was worse than the crime itself. Will the Victims and Prisoners Bill be sufficiently amended so that medical and social services records are not used against victims in court, and family courts are not used to perpetuate such abuse against the victim, particularly with the use of the term “parental alienation”?

I am truly sorry to hear of what happened to the hon. Lady’s constituent. I hope that I can reassure her by saying that new regulations will be published under the Victims and Prisoners Bill to create a code of practice setting out the principles that the police should apply to all third-party requests, including for counselling, therapy and medical notes. The police will be required to complete a new request form that sets out the purpose and impact of their request. The Crown Prosecution Service also has a robust case file review process to ensure that guidance on necessary and proportionate requests is complied with. The CPS pre-trial therapy guidelines make it crystal clear that victims must not delay therapy for criminal investigation and prosecution.

Recently, I was able to visit the Gwent rape investigation unit and see what an excellent job the police officers there are doing. However, can the Minister explain why the Government thought it was appropriate to boast about the so-called progress on the rape review when the proportion of cases being charged has halved since 2016, and the key adviser quit because of the lack of drive to improve outcomes for victims?

I have also heard very good reports of the work that Gwent police are doing, so I am glad to hear what the hon. Lady says. I must push back very slightly on what has happened since we launched the end-to-end rape review. We are prosecuting more rape cases than we were in 2010. Conviction rates are higher, and perpetrators are going to prison for almost 50% longer than they were in 2010; the average sentence increased from six and a half years to nine and a half years. I accept that the last independent adviser to the rape review went, but last week we announced the appointment of Professor Katrin Hohl, a legal academic who pioneered Operation Soteria, which I think every Member of this House agrees has transformed the way in which police investigate and prosecute rape, and is leading to better criminal justice outcomes for victims.