The Ministry of Justice has deleted a social-media post designed to promote new legislation to support victims of rape following criticism from a senior police officer.
Dame Lynne Owens, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, described an official MoJ tweet about a new amendment to the victims and prisoners bill as “inaccurate and offensive” in the way it portrayed the work of officers tasked with helping victims.
The measure, set out by the MoJ on Monday, aims to set out clearly in law that police should only request material such as victims’ therapy notes and other personal records when it is “absolutely necessary and proportionate” for their investigations.
The tweet said the measures would “help ensure vulnerable victims aren’t put off reporting rape for fear that notes could be used against them in court”. An accompanying graphic said the amendment would end police “fishing expeditions”.
Owens, who is a former chief constable of Surrey Police and who was director general of the National Crime Agency from 2016 to 2021, said the MoJ’s tweet “oversimplified” the policy change and risked damaging trust in policing.
“The way this tweet is written is inaccurate and offensive, minimising the efforts the majority of police officers make to support victims and comply with the expectations of other parts of the justice system,” she wrote.
Owens said she hoped MoJ permanent secretary Antonia Romeo would want to “reflect on the tweet”. She said she had asked Met Police assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe to work with the National Police Chiefs Council on a “more accurate description” for the legislation.
The MoJ subsequently deleted the tweet Owens complained about.
But the phrases that sparked her concerns are still contained in a press release on GOV.UK promoting the amendment to the victims and prisoners bill.
The release has the headline: “End to intrusive fishing expeditions of rape victims’ therapy notes”. It goes on to say that the proposed legislative change will “stop unnecessary and invasive access to personal materials such as therapy notes”.
The official communication contains quotes from home secretary Suella Braverman, justice secretary Alex Chalk, and justice minister Edward Argar.
It also states that the amendment will “end expansive fishing expeditions for information that can be irrelevant to the investigation and used to undermine the credibility of the victim”.
An MoJ spokesperson said the department had heard and taken on board Owens’s views.
“Our amendment means victims of rape will no longer face unnecessary and invasive requests to access their therapy notes or other personal records,” the spokesperson said.
“We have amended the wording of our communications following a request from the police, to reflect the full breadth of circumstances in which such requests have historically come about.”