Victims of crime, including those alleging rape and sexual assault, will now be asked to give their consent to the police to access their mobile phones. The police can then look at emails, messages and photographs relevant to the investigation. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, has said that the police are limited to viewing digital material only where it forms a “reasonable” line of inquiry. Any material found will only be admissible at Court if stringent conditions are met.
Although the consent forms can be used in any criminal investigation, it is said that they are most likely to be used in rape and sexual assault cases. In particular, where complainants know the suspect and their mobile phone could contain crucial, relevant evidence of communication. The forms have been introduced following a number of rape and sexual assault cases collapsing as a result of crucial evidence emerging late in the day.
If the complainant decides that they do not wish to give consent, they can provide reasons for their refusal. However, complainants will also be told that if they refuse permission, “it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue”.
The new scheme has resulted in criticism that victims could stop coming forward. However, in order for justice to be done, a balance must be struck between the complainant’s right to privacy and the need to diligently investigate all lines of enquiry – whether to prove a person’s guilt or indeed demonstrate their innocence.
Zoe Spencer is a trainee solicitor in our High Wycombe office.
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