Government backs amendment to better protect victims’ counselling records

New legislation will provide extra protections for victims' counselling notes during criminal investigations

  • New measure to provide extra protections for victims’ counselling notes
  • Greater scrutiny and protection for victims’ privacy through statutory Code of Practice
  • Protections to encourage victims to seek professional help

New legislation to provide extra protections for victims’ counselling notes during criminal investigations received government backing today.

The amendment to the landmark Victims and Prisoners Bill, tabled by Baroness Bertin, will require the police to be satisfied that counselling information is likely to add substantial value to their investigation before they request a victim’s records.

It will also provide further protections in the new statutory Code of Practice, which will state clearly that police must start with an assumption that a request for counselling notes is not necessary and proportionate to their investigation.

The move will give greater confidence to victims – particularly those of sexual assault - in seeking the therapy they need to help move forward with their lives, without fear that information revealed in absolute trust will be used against them.

Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC, said:

"It is only right we do everything we can to ensure victims feel confident in accessing support services such as counselling which are vital in helping them rebuild and move on with their lives.

"I want to thank Baroness Bertin for her enduring commitment to improving the experience of victims, giving them greater confidence in the justice system."

Baroness Bertin said:

"I am delighted and proud that the government has accepted these much needed amendments. 

"If enforced properly, this should make a material difference to the wellbeing of so many victims and survivors. 

This government is making every effort to change the approach taken to rape survivors and investigations. This is another step in the right direction. 

"It should never be the case that intimate and personal notes are routinely accessed by law enforcement agencies. By raising this threshold I hope many more victims will pursue both justice and support to get their lives back on track."

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:

"This is a significant moment for rape survivors and their right to access healing and support while pursuing justice.

"Counselling should be a safe and private space to explore feelings and heal from trauma, and records must be protected from unnecessary and disproportionate requests during a police investigation. We’re pleased to see this now reflected far better in law, although much rests on its implementation, which we will be following closely."

Ciara Bergman, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales, said:

"We are delighted that the Government has recognised the profoundly private nature of counselling notes and that such sensitive and personal material will now be afforded better protection. This is a significant step in the right direction, and we look forward to working closely with victims and survivors and criminal justice agencies, to ensure that this much-needed change in law is implemented consistently in practice."

Further amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill to strengthen victim support include:

  • a crackdown on the misuse of confidentiality clauses to stop victims of crime accessing support services
  • a new statutory duty holding the police and other criminal justice agencies to account which means they must not only inform victims of their rights under the Victims’ Code – but deliver services in accordance with it
  • a bolstered role for Victims’ Commissioner to ensure support available to all victims
  • families can make impact statements at mental health tribunals

Through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the principles of the Victims’ Code will be placed on a statutory footing, and police, prosecutors and other frontline staff will have a duty to ensure victims know the services and support that they are qualified to receive - including the entitlement to be referred to a support service, receive updates on their case and to make a victim personal statement.     

Alongside new legislation, the government is also continuing to bolster support services - quadrupling victims’ funding by 2024/25, up from £41 million in 2009/10, and using ringfenced funding to increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse Advisors by 300 to around 1,000 – a 43% increase by 2024/5.

From: Ministry of Justice and The Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP