Amendment 76

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:15 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Cotes Baroness Morgan of Cotes Ceidwadwyr 6:15, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 87A, 88A and 158, which, as the Minister has already said, discuss additional protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. I thank my noble friend Lady Finn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their support for these amendments, which I know are also supported by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, and across the House as well. I am sorry that I was not able to speak to them myself in person—I am very grateful to those who did —in Committee due to a family emergency.

The Government argue that their amendment covering these issues sets out clearly in law that the police should request third-party materials only if they are necessary and proportionate to a reasonable line of inquiry. However, these amendments do no more than reinforce existing legal provisions that are already not adhered to. No additional safeguards or protections are being offered. This will do nothing to change policing culture around excessive requests because it will merely reaffirm what already exists in law rather than encouraging operational change. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say. Although I do not necessarily intend formally to move these amendments this evening, I am concerned to hear that the third-party material we are talking about is not going to be treated as sensitively as mobile phone data because the material we are talking about could be medical material, school information or even social services records. It may be created by a third party, but it is all sensitive data about the victim of a rape or a serious sexual assault. I think it is a mistake not to have entertained more the protections that we are talking about in these amendments.

Just last week, the Home Office published its report of a case file review of police requests for third-party material in rape cases. The findings are truly shocking, and I encourage anybody who does not believe this is an issue to read that report in full. I think we should consider the findings regarding each of the tests that the police are supposed to apply when making requests for this material. First, is it necessary? In the review of 342 third-party material requests, only 176 requests had a recorded rationale, leaving 49% of requests without an explanation for the necessity of that request. Is the request proportionate? The report found that nearly two-thirds of requests did not contain any parameters, such as a timeframe, to limit the amount of information about the victim being requested. Is the request following a reasonable line of inquiry? Nearly one-quarter of rationales given for the third-party material request were generic or not specific to the case. If the reasoning for making a third-party material request is speculative, it is unlikely to be necessary to make the request in pursuit of a line of inquiry.

We know there is a problem, but there is also a solution. As we have already heard, there is a well-developed framework within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. That framework applies to requests for digital data held on phones, and it sets out that requests for victims’ digital data must receive the consent of victims. If consent is not received, this must not lead to the termination of the police investigation. One of the most serious aspects of this is that where the victim does not give consent, that is almost used as a reason to drop the investigation, which is devastating for the victim concerned. In that Act, there are strong safeguards offering key protections for vulnerable victims. That is what these amendments seek to do: to amend the wording in the Bill to mirror that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

Anecdotal evidence from victim advocates indicates that, since that Act was introduced, they have seen fewer requests, as well as requests being more appropriate in scope, because of that framework. I do not understand why the Government will not adopt that framework for third-party material requests. It does not make any sense to have two different regimes. Often, this material is sought in tandem. It would be better for victims, and for the police, for there to be one regime.

Victims of crime should not be forced to choose between their own privacy and their right to justice. I hope the Government will look favourably on these amendments, if not now, then in the future.

I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Bertin for Amendments 87, 88, 89 and 94. She is absolutely right that victims and survivors of sexual violence should never have to choose between seeking justice and accessing therapy and support. I thank all those across the House who have supported her in making that case, and my noble friend the Minister for listening.