Amendment 76

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:00 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Ceidwadwyr 6:00, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy for his time and for the Government’s thought on these amendments, which, as he rightly pointed out, concern the disclosure of therapy notes. I am sure he probably questioned his life choices when he saw me and other colleagues popping into his Zoom calls quite a bit over the Easter Recess. I am absolutely delighted that he has indicated that the Government will accept these amendments. It has been a long, hard- fought campaign by a formidable team of campaigners from Rape Crisis, the Centre for Women’s Justice, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Rights of Women. I thank the Government for listening.

I believe this will make a material difference to the confidence and well-being of victims of rape, and I hope that over time it will also help reduce the attrition rate in the justice system, which, at 62%, we can all agree is far too high. These amendments are a proportionate compromise. Again, I want to praise the Government. They thought long and hard about getting these amendments right. They do not jeopardise the right to a fair trial, which is crucial, but they correct a significant wrong when it comes to routine intrusion into victims’ therapy notes.

I will be very brief because we are on Report, but just to set the context of why these amendments are needed, when a rape victim reports the offence to the police, they are often put in the impossible position of being forced to choose between pursuing justice or seeking counselling due to the likelihood of their private records and counselling notes being accessed by the police. We know that more than one-third of rape cases had those notes accessed. Very often, victims choose not to seek counselling and those who continue with therapy ahead of a trial are often told that they must not talk about what happened to them. How ridiculous is that? You need to talk about the rape, the thing that happened to you, in order to get over it. Both scenarios leave many victims without vital support at a time when it is needed most. The reality is that the notes that counsellors take in those sessions are to inform their next session. It is not an evidence-collecting process, so very often those notes are not very useful and are often thrown out of court if they get into a courtroom situation. They are not useful, but they are incredibly damaging. Also, justice and proper support should never cancel each other out.

I am very grateful that my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy has set out the detail, so I will not repeat it in a too-drawn-out way. Essentially, the important point of this amendment is that it raises the threshold at which the police and other bodies are able to request counselling notes during an investigation. In order to request such notes, the police will have to show that they have been able to rebut the presumption that counselling records are not necessary and proportionate to a law enforcement purpose and that they consider that the counselling records are likely to be of “substantial probative value”, which is a higher threshold than “necessary and proportionate”, which we have at the moment. To ensure that this new threshold of substantial probative value is properly understood, because we know that, with 43 police forces around the country, it could easily be misunderstood or not adhered to, the Government should provide clear guidance in the code of practice, working with other relevant partners such as the CPS, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Attorney-General.

Finally, a very important part of these amendments is requiring the Secretary of State to publish a review of how these measures are working and being adhered to three years after the provisions come into force. We all know that post-legislative scrutiny of these difficult areas of law and of how the measures are working in practice is crucial. Taken together, the new threshold and the guidance will enhance the work of transformative programs such Operation Soteria and are another step in the right direction of dismantling the criminal justice system’s focus on victims’ credibility rather than the actions of the suspect.