Support for Survivors of Rape and Sexual Offences

Meeting: 
MQT on 2019-05-16
Session date: 
May 16, 2019
Reference: 
2019/9267
Question By: 
Joanne McCartney
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

New guidelines from the College of Policing into disclosure requirements from survivors of rape and sexual assault have raised concerns that they will reduce the number of women coming forward to report such crimes. What is the assessment of your Victims’ Commissioner?

Answer

Answer for Support for Survivors of Rape and Sexual Offences

Answer for Support for Survivors of Rape and Sexual Offences

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Chair.  This is an issue that both I am my Victims’ Commissioner Claire Waxman take incredibly seriously.  I have spoken about my concerns around disclosure practices which risk deterring victims and survivors of rape from securing justice and support.  The Victims’ Commissioner for London [Clare Waxman] has been the leading national voice bringing this issue to prominence. 

 

Requests for excessive disclosure can impact victims’ confidence to engage with the justice system.  This is a view expressed powerfully by survivors and organisations supporting victims.  We know that only a small proportion of rapes and sexual assaults are reported and brought to prosecution.  This must be changed, and as a society we must do more to create a supportive environment for people coming forward.  As part of this, those reporting crimes must be confident that the police and prosecutors will follow disclosure guidance diligently and only access information that is reasonable and proportionate to their inquiries, while of course balance the defendant’s right to a fair trial. 

 

The assessment of London’s Victims’ Commissioner and I is that the new updated disclosure consent form produced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service does not strike the balance correctly.  As early as October 2018, the Victims’ Commissioner led successful calls for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to conduct a full investigation into how personal material has been collected, stored, shared and used.  This is alongside work listening to affected victims, liaising with victim support groups, raising the matter with Government and increasing public awareness through the media. 

 

I read the conclusions of the ICO’s investigation and am clear that the findings should inform police practice on disclosure.  In the meantime, I support the Victims’ Commissioner and the other Police and Crime Commissioners in their call for the withdrawal of these forms as soon as practically possible.  The Victims’ Commissioner will continue to scrutinise the disclosure process until we are satisfied that victims’ rights are safeguarded. 

 

Chair, I will of course be happy to arrange for Assembly Member McCartney to meet with Claire Waxman to speak through this work.  Part of my commitment to do everything I can to make London the best city in the world for women and girls is to continue to support and stand up for victims of sexual violence, including through the record investment in services such as rape crisis centres, independent domestic violence advocates and provision for sexual assault referral centres. 

 

Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you for that answer and thank you for how you have answered this when I have raised this before. 

 

When I last raised it there were concerns that police forces across the country had different requirements.  They were requesting different things.  The College of Policing work was meant to sort that out.  It now has a uniform approach but, as you have recognised, it now has raised other issues.  Of course relevant information pertaining to the allegation should be disclosed, but, as I understand it, some forces are now downloading the entire contents of a phone and some are only downloading part.  Obviously, these days, people’s lives are contained on their phones.  What can you do to make sure the MPS is only downloading that part that is relevant and necessary?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the things we are looking forward to is a response from the Information Commissioner.  The key thing is that any downloading has to be proportionate.  Of course we have to make sure that any trial is fair and we have to respect the rights of a defendant facing a trial.  What we do not want to do is deter victims from coming forward because of a concern they have about their private life being made public during a court case, and also things that we all have on our phones that are not relevant to a particular incident we may be dealing with that we will not want the public to see.  That is why it is really important for the police forces across the country to have a consistent system.  That includes the MPS learning the lessons from the concern raised by victims’ groups, including Police and Crime Commissioners across London.  Claire Waxman needs to speak to the MPS to make sure it understands some of the concerns victims’ groups have across London. 

 

Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.  The sanction detection rate for sexual offences is poor, not only in the MPS but across the rest of the country.  We need to make sure that this does not, as you said, put off people coming forward.  The concerns I think centre particularly around the fact that information that is not relevant to a particular offence but that might be downloaded and therefore disclosed will go to discredit the complainant.  We have moved on from 20 years ago when how a woman behaved and how she acted in public was used as evidence of bad character, if you like.  Are you concerned that this is taking us backwards in this respect?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  When I was practising law, often in these sorts of cases that were being defended the way to acquit your client was to discredit the victim, to cast aspersions on the victim, to almost victim‑blame.  I think there has been huge progress made over the last 20 years in relation to protections a victim has, and a judge will normally step in.  There are procedural rules now in the court that protect somebody from oppressive cross‑examination and from certain forms of disclosure happening. 

 

The concern though is ‑ you have hit the nail on the head ‑ that there is underreporting, there is a lack of successful prosecutions, and that is leading to a situation where the concern is that even fewer people may come forward and report rapes and sexual offences if it is the case that they are concerned about their private lives being made public and all that entails from what they have seen in yesteryear, but also what we see from fictional TV programmes as well. 

 

Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.