"Sexual assaults can be committed by people with whom they share, or shared, a close relationship. "
Stacey Phoenix, Solicitor at Cygnet Law
Redcar-based law firm Cygnet Law has warned that new rules requiring victims of crimes, including rape, to hand their mobile phones in as evidence could frighten people away from reporting in future.
The digital consent forms are designed to close a loophole in the law which states that complainants do not currently have to disclose evidence which may be held on mobile phones, computers, tablets or smart watches. This could include emails, private messages, or photographs.
Victims unwilling to share this information could find their cases dismissed, and in some cases, fact prosecution themselves.
The move comes after a number of sexual assault and rape cases collapsed after further evidence came to light after the trial had begun.
Many groups, including the team at Cygnet Law, have raised concerns with the new regulations, as the perceived invasion of privacy and embarrassment for the victim, could lead to a reduction in reports of rape and sexual violence.
Stacey Phoenix, a Solicitor at Cygnet Law, said: “It’s no secret that rape and sexual assault are already vastly under-reported crimes, and this new ruling is a dangerous step towards pushing more victims away from the police and into the shadows.
“I can fully understand why the rulings have been introduced, as trials can be intrusive, and can cause significant upheaval to all involved, however there must be common sense and respect for the people who have had the strength and courage to come forward, without fear of facing prosecution for non-compliance.
“The contents of a person’s digital property can be deeply personal. It may contain intimate photographs, intended only for a partner, private emails, messages sent in haste or anger, and any number of details that they wouldn’t want to share with the world.”
Stacey added: “It is also worth noting that sexual assaults can be committed by people with whom they share, or shared, a close relationship. It would be tragic to see a case collapse because of a loving message exchange, when approximately 90% of rapes are committed by people known to the victim. It is likely, therefore, that they may have shared friendly messages in the past.
“It is essential that those supporting victims ensure that they are protected when they are asked to disclose this information, so that they understand how it will be used and are reassured that they will not be the ones on trial.”