Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, in the House of Commons on 29 April 2019.
There is widespread recognition that disclosure in criminal cases must be improved. As the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), whom I still call my friend, knows, disclosure of evidence is crucial for ensuring the public’s confidence in the police and in our criminal justice system. It is important to note that police forces have been using forms to request victims’ consent to review mobile phones in investigations, including sexual assault cases, for some time. What is new is the national form that was introduced today, which attempts to distil current best practice and to replace the individual versions being used by the 43 police forces, to ensure that there is consistency and clarity for complainants. That is the intention of the police.
In considering seeking such consent, the police must consider what is a reasonable line of inquiry and ensure that their approach avoids unnecessary intrusion into a complainant’s personal life. In July 2018, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued advice on investigating communications evidence, making it clear that the examination of the mobile telephones of complainants should not be pursued as a matter of course and that, where it was pursued, the level of extraction should be proportionate.
This Government have made protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence a key priority, and it is encouraging that more victims than ever before have had the confidence to come forward. However, it is surely critical that victims are not deterred from seeking justice by a perception of how their personal information is handled. They can and should expect nothing less than that it will be dealt with in a way that is consistent with their right to privacy and with the interests of justice.
This is clearly a complex area, and while disclosure is an important component of the criminal justice system in ensuring a fair trial, the police have acknowledged that the use of personal data in criminal investigations is a source of anxiety. They will continue to work with victim groups and the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that their approach to this issue strikes the necessary, if difficult, balance between the requirement for reasonable lines of inquiry and the victim’s right to privacy. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to work with partners in the criminal justice system to deliver the recommendations in the Attorney General’s review designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure.