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CPS says: Victims of crime should not delay getting the therapeutic support they need

|News, Sexual offences

Being the victim of a sexual offence is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic experiences a person may face in their lifetime. Our message on this is clear - if therapy is needed to aid recovery, there are no circumstances where access should be delayed.

We are fully aware of the fears about how therapy notes may be used in the criminal justice system, but we want to be clear about the safeguards in place to protect the privacy of victims.

There is a damaging misconception that the threshold has been lowered and therapy notes are regularly disclosed in criminal trials, that is simply not the case.

CPS pre-trial therapy guidance must follow the Attorney General’s guidelines on disclosure. As the AG’s office has said – “the guidelines on disclosure have significantly enhanced the standard for accessing therapy records to make sure thorough and fair investigations are undertaken.”

Any request for therapy notes has to reasonable and proportionate to avoid any unnecessary intrusion. Notes must never be requested on a speculative basis. A request to see the victim’s file - just to check if it contains anything of interest - would not be allowed.

People’s private records should not be opened up for scrutiny unless it is really necessary and reasonable given the issues in the case. Even where notes are requested – this does not automatically mean material will be provided to the defence. The only basis this can happen is where material can be reasonably expected to undermine the prosecution case or strengthen the defence case.

This is a sensitive issue, so we consulted with medical staff and victims’ groups in developing this guidance. This included expert insights into the impact of trauma on a victim’s memory and behaviour to address concerns about potential inconsistencies in a victim’s account during therapy.

As part of updating our guidance we also provided extensive training for prosecutors, including training podcasts, making clear therapy notes can only be requested where relevant and that their use must be explained from the outset.

We are clear that victims of sexual offences should seek the support they need without worrying about the impact on court proceedings. Their well-being is paramount, and we do not underestimate the anxiety navigating the criminal justice system can cause.

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