Want justice? Tell us your whole life story first

A stack of papers, including a ring binder at the bottomYesterday it was reported that the police in some parts of the UK, notably London and Merseyside, demand that women reporting rape submit both medical records and an extraordinary array of electronic data to them which can then be handed over to the Defence. Complainants are being asked to hand over all of their counselling notes and school health and social services records as well as all data from their electronic devices such as text messages, social media postings, documents and web browsing history; this data can then be kept for up to 100 years. People are being advised that if they fail to disclose what is demanded, the prosecution cannot go ahead; meanwhile, suspects cannot be forced to hand over this amount of information and police are complaining that they are inundated with data.

The obvious problem is that victims — as most complainants are — are being asked to submit virtually everything they have written down and everything anyone has written about them in the past several years, possibly their whole adult and adolescent lives, in order that the defence be furnished with a raft of mostly irrelevant information they can use to discredit the case against their client with baseless suggestions about the complainant’s history or character. This perhaps indicates that defence lawyers are having to get more sophisticated than simply making the complainant out to be a harlot (by, for example, getting a few of the accused’s friends to testify that they had sex with her) — they can portray her instead as mentally ill, or reveal that a teacher once said (ten years ago) that she was the kind of girl that made up stories or that she “had a fertile imagination”. In one particular case (in which a woman was attacked by a stranger in public), the prosecution service obtained a woman’s mental health records that revealed that she had an illness that sometimes made people prone to risky or unusual sexual behaviour and dropped the case, fearing that if the defence became aware of this it would fatally undermine the case; the rapist proceeded to rape another woman.

Such enormous demands for disclosure can only feature as a deterrent for women seeking to report anything but the most stereotypical of sexual assaults — the situation of the respectable librarian attacked out of a bush on her way home. However, what must also be feared is what else might be done with this information. It would no doubt give clues to a woman’s immigration status and that of a number of her friends, along with their whereabouts, as well as a whole raft of other information that might be used to incriminate her or her friends, particularly if they are involved in any kind of organised protest movement or a political movement that the security forces consider to be “of interest” (which may or may not be rational — see MI6’s obsession with Michael Foot’s supposed Russian connections). In other words, it’s an enormous database of information that the police could use to do anything they want with; let’s not be deceived by their complaints about being inundated. If the victim is someone they are interested in anyway, or associated with them, they will know what to do with the data.

We may think the police are there to serve us, the public; in fact, they serve the Queen, or in other words, the State. It should be no surprise that they make extraordinary demands for information which can be used for their own purposes as well as for making prosecuting rape more difficult (thus cutting costs) in all but the easiest cases. It does appear to be pandering to stereotypes about an awful lot of reports of rape being false and complainants being liars (currently it is only in cases of rape or sexual assault where such disclosures are required) but it still means that justice is not for all: it is only for those who have nothing to hide and no foibles or peccadilloes. It has to end.

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