Rape victims could be given their own lawyers to stop police prying into their sexual history under new plan
- Victims Commissioner has called for a new Victim’s Law for rape victims
- Law would ensure women have a ‘lawyer on their side’ when they report attacks
- Dame Vera Baird argues sex assault victims should have a right to a solicitor
Rape victims could have taxpayer-funded lawyers to stop police prying into their sexual history and trawling their phones under new proposals.
The Victims Commissioner for England and Wales has called for a Victims’ Law to ensure women have ‘a lawyer on their side’ when they report their attacks.
Dame Vera Baird argues that sex assault victims should have a right to a legal aid-funded solicitor able to challenge unreasonable demands by officers wanting to download their entire mobile phone contents and snoop through emails and internet search history.
Rape victims could have taxpayer-funded lawyers to stop police prying into their sexual history and trawling their phones under new proposal (Stock image)
In a bid to boost woeful conviction rates, a lawyer would be by their side at the police station tasked with protecting their privacy and stopping ‘excessive personal information requests’.
This may include warding off intrusive bids by officers to delve through rape victims’ health records or inappropriate questions about their sexual history and what they were wearing at the time of the attack.
Dame Vera said: ‘There is a lawyer on their side, that means the police watch their Ps and Qs and in particular the arguments around how much material she has to disclose and whether it is fair to put in previous sexual history.’ The Mail revealed earlier this month how record numbers of victims are dropping out of court cases, resulting in rapists going free.
Since the start of the pandemic, prosecutors have seen a 79 per cent rise in the number of cases ending with no conviction due to witnesses and victims withdrawing. Many face years waiting for justice.
In a major shake-up of how victims are treated, the policy paper published today suggests a ‘statutory right for all victims to be given free legal representation in respect of any decisions taken by police, prosecutors or courts that threaten their privacy rights’. Dame Vera said the reforms were needed to address plummeting confidence in the criminal justice process.
She said: ‘Victims are participants from start to finish, but they are currently treated more like bystanders.
‘Some of them feel worse for the process than they felt for the offence.
‘A lot of people think they are going to tell their story. But they find it’s not about them, it is a state prosecution – you are just fodder for that process.
The Victims Commissioner for England and Wales has called for a Victims’ Law to ensure women have ‘a lawyer on their side’ when they report their attacks (Stock image)
‘A lot of crimes are repeat offences. If you don’t have victims prepared to testify, you are risking future victims.’
In a recent pilot scheme looking at 83 rape prosecutions, legal advocates representing victims successfully challenged police data requests in 47 per cent of cases. Rolled out nationally, it is estimated the scheme could cost £3.9million a year.
Dame Vera added: ‘More and more victims are withdrawing their support for prosecutions and, in my recent survey of rape complainants, only around one in seven said they felt reporting could end in justice.
‘To regain the trust of victims, we urgently need a change of culture in how the justice system treats them.’
A Government spokesman said it would consult on a victims’ law later in the year.
He said: ‘We are also investing millions in vital support services, recruiting more independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers, and reviewing the entire response to rape to build back confidence in the justice system.’