Sarah* was raped and sexually assaulted by her former partner, Mr A*. She found the courage to speak up about what had happened to her and she reported the crimes to the police.
Sarah provided a Video Recorded Interview for the police. Following this, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service identified an excessive collection of Sarah’s personal data and requested that she provide this data for them to consider whether they would charge Mr A for rape.
The requested data included Sarah’s medical and counselling records; permission to download Sarah’s mobile phone data and data from her social media accounts; permission to download Sarah’s email accounts; and previous legal correspondence between Sarah and a former solicitor. This constituted an unjustifiably wide-ranging request for private and sensitive information.
How We Helped
Sarah’s case was referred to Hollie Wheeler, a solicitor in our Public Law & Human Rights Team, by the Centre for Women’s Justice. The Centre for Women’s Justice is a charity whose mission is to hold the state to account and challenge discrimination in the justice system around male violence against women and girls.
Hollie took on this case and acted for Sarah on a pro bono basis to challenge the excessive request for data which was not justified and failed to acknowledge key legislation and case law.
We pursued a complaint with the relevant police force and the Crown Prosecution Service.
We explained that the data requests made infringed Sarah’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to respect for her private and family life, were not in accordance with legislation and the principles set out in the case of R v Bater James  where the Court of Appeal emphasised that it is:
“Not a ‘reasonable’ line of inquiry if the investigator pursues fanciful or inherently speculative researches. Instead there needs to be an identifiable basis that justifies taking steps in this context”. The court held that “investigators should not request such material … if they come within the category of a ‘fishing expedition’.”
We argued that to comply with case law, guidance and legislation, any request for access to data needs to be targeted and proportionate in pursuit of identified reasonable lines of enquiry.
The Crown Prosecution Service responded to our letter of complaint, agreeing that the majority of the requests made were misguided and unreasonable and should have been pursued in a different way. The Crown Prosecution Service notified the police of this view and asked that they not make such wide-ranging requests for private and sensitive information unless deemed necessary and justified for the purposes of the investigation.
The criminal investigation into the rape was able to proceed without Sarah’s sensitive private and personal information being unlawfully obtained by the police.
Hollie said, “Unfortunately there is a national issue with police forces across the country making blanket requests of complainants of rape and sexual assault to provide access to their sensitive, unrelated, personal information before proceeding with investigations into these crimes. Often, these women feel as though they are the ones being investigated and forced into providing such information to the police in the hope that their complaint will be looked into seriously. This is unacceptable.
"The Crown Prosecution Service highlighting the unreasonable requests to the police force in this case is a positive outcome and one that is hoped will impact the police’s future approach in cases of serious sexual crime”.
*Not actual names used in this case study.
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