Matthew Scott

It’s not wrong to ask rape complainants to give their phones to police

Jeremy Corbyn, Shami Chakrabarti and Harriet Harman all have difficulties with the idea of complainants in rape cases being asked to hand over their mobile phones as part of a police investigation. Corbyn has described it as a ‘disturbing move’.

It is nothing of the sort.

No change in the law has taken place. Instead, rightly stung by a series of recent cases in which evidence from mobile phones suggesting innocence was withheld from the defence until the last minute, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Crown Prosecution Service have agreed on a standard form to give to complainants when investigating sexual offences.

It deals with those cases – not every case – in which the police believe that a complainant’s mobile phone should be examined as part of an investigation into a sexual offence.

Rape allegations almost always relate to incidents which took place in private. Without any independent witnesses, juries can be left trying to decide who is telling the truth based upon little more than whether the complainant or the defendant looked more plausible or shifty. Since most human beings are hopeless at spotting liars, this is a task fraught with the danger of producing the wrong verdict.

The smart-phone goes some small way towards solving this problem. Amongst the vast quantities of information stored, not just text messages, but photographs, videos, voice recordings, social media conversations and information about locations and timings, there is often material which may be relevant in a rape investigation.

That is why when a man is arrested for rape, seizure of his mobile phone is almost automatic. It will be carefully examined – with particular attention paid to embarrassing pictures and anything touching on his sex life – and it often throws an entirely different light on his account.

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