Sex crime victims' rights breached
Sex crime victims are having their human rights breached by prosecutors who hand over too much information to their alleged attacker's lawyers, inspectors have warned.
In some cases, more material is being disclosed by prosecutors to defence counsel than is legal, Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) said.
While this did not have an adverse impact on the case itself, it amounts to a breach of the alleged victim's right of privacy under the Human Rights Act, the Inspectorate warned.
An inspection into the disclosure of medical records and counselling notes in rape and sexual offence cases found gaps in the Crown Prosecution Service's handling of material.
HMCPSI chief inspector Michael Fuller said: "During inspections in 2011/12, we found that the CPS needed to improve its handling of disclosure of unused material in general.
"The issue has also been raised by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve about CPS handling of disclosure in rape and sexual offence cases, in particular in relation to whether or not complainants' medical records and counselling notes are disclosed appropriately and, crucially, whether their consent is obtained."
The HMCPSI report found that prosecutors do not always consider properly whether there is a need to disclose everything in a medical record or in counselling notes, and often do not check if an alleged victim's consent has been obtained.
Inspectors found that it was appropriate to disclose some of the material in every case where medical records or counselling notes were disclosed. However, in seven out of 32 cases more material was disclosed than should have been, which was a breach of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act.
The CPS sometimes disclosed documents "as a matter of course", the Inspectorate found, even where they do not fall to be disclosed under CPIA.
CPS guidance on disclosure in relation to rape and sexual offences states that an alleged victim's consent should be obtained before medical records or counselling notes are disclosed to the defence. However, the Inspectorate said there is nothing in that guidance to explain what a prosecutor should do if consent is refused.