13:33, July 15 309 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-15 13:33:05
In defence of digital consent forms given to rape complainants

I am writing to express my concern about the comments made by Dame Vera Baird regarding the “digital consent forms” given to rape complainants (Victims’ commissioner warns of intrusive CPS demands in rape cases, 8 July).

Ms Baird appears to claim that the police use these forms to demand rape complainants hand over highly personal information, no matter its relevance to the allegation. A failure to do so may result in a dropped prosecution, Ms Baird implies.

Having seen the draft form, this is not the full picture. The digital consent form does not demand anything. Instead it sensitively sets out what the police may request, explains why digital evidence is important and asks for a complainant’s agreement to access a digital device. It also attempts to explain the police’s legal duty to follow all lines of inquiry, whether they support or undermine a criminal complaint. The form is, in my view, a user-friendly explanation of the procedures for the collection, retention and use of digital evidence in criminal investigations and proceedings.

It is of course important that all complainants are treated sensitively. However, it is also a fundamental tenet of our criminal justice system that evidence relied on to prosecute an individual is robustly tested. The full disclosure and examination of digital evidence may, if relevant, be key to ensuring a fair trial.

Ms Baird’s comments have the unfortunate effect of both undermining the importance of digital evidence and discouraging other complainants from coming forward. It must be difficult to make a complaint of sexual assault to the police. It should not be made more so by Ms Baird misrepresenting the reality of the investigatory process. In my view her comments do a disservice to the victims of crime she represents.

Peter Csemiczky

Partner, criminal defence department, Hickman and Rose

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