Controversial consent forms known as “digital strip searches” because they allowed police to examine everything in the mobile phones of rape and sexual offence victims are being scrapped.
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has written to chief constables across the country to announce the forms will be withdrawn and replaced by August 13.
The decision comes after Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, last month recommended they be removed and rewritten as they did not properly explain the legal basis for the digital intrusion into alleged victims.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) brought a legal challenge last year which argued that the use of these forms was unlawful, discriminatory and led to excessive and intrusive disclosure requests.
Rape and sexual violence groups have warned that victims are wary about coming forward to report crimes because of fears that their entire digital history will be trawled, and unrelated events will be used against them to try and undermine their allegations.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the CWJ, said: “We are relieved that these forms have finally been withdrawn from use, but they should never have been used in the first place. Their effect has been to delay rape cases and deter many victims from coming forward or continuing with their cases.”
The digital consent forms, requesting police have access to messages, photographs, emails and social media accounts, were introduced by the NPCC last year as part of a response to the disclosure scandal.
Police and prosecutors had been forced to drop charges against a string of defendants after it emerged they had failed to disclose vital evidence, particularly from digital devices, in a series of rape and sexual assault cases.
However, the forms were heavily criticised when it emerged victims of crimes, including rape, were told that a refusal to allow investigators access to their data could mean prosecutions would be halted.
Last year the CWJ brought a legal challenge on behalf of two women, “Courtney” and “Olivia”, who had reported rape to the police. They objected to the downloading of all of their personal digital data, which they argued was not relevant to the allegations they had made.
The CWJ said that it had received inquiries from hundreds of other rape victims and frontline service providers, raising concerns about the intrusive disclosure requests which were deterring victims from pursuing allegations.
A subsequent Court of Appeal judgment provided a set of guiding legal principles for a correct lawful and proportionate approach to the disclosure of data from complainants in rape and other sexual offences.