Call for protocols before domestic violence victims give phones to gardaí 

Call for protocols before domestic violence victims give phones to gardaí 

There needs to be “clear legal protocols” on the handover of personal phones by domestic abuse victims to gardaí and the provision of independent legal advice to victims beforehand, a group representing refuge services has said.

It follows comments from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris that there is a “significant and growing” reluctance among victims of domestic abuse to hand over their phones for Garda investigations and that this has a knock-on impact on the possibility of prosecutions.

He said the reluctance is understandable as victims may be on a rental contract, paying €50-€60 per month, and could be without their phones “for a couple of years” as an investigation continues.

The police chief told the Policing Authority that a solution could be a “one for one” replacement phone, whereby gardaí would provide a phone to the victim while they keep their device for evidential purposes.

Mr Harris said the Department of Justice is aware of the difficulty.

Safe Ireland, the representative body for refuges, said that in general most victims engage meaningfully and cooperate wholly with garda investigations in an effort to both “protect their safety and bring perpetrators to justice”.

But it said the need to secure evidence from phones intersects with other needs.

“Devices are a repository for an array of other data necessary for day-to-day living and,” it said.

For women fleeing violence, it may be their sole means of communication with family and support networks, school, work, and finance.

Safe Ireland said phones may also be the only source of digital storage for private and personal content.

The representative body said there are many other legal considerations as to what data may be of evidential significance and which may not and how the latter can be secured and the privacy rights of the owner respected.

“These conflicts somewhat explain the understandable reluctance of a victim to surrender a device for an indefinite period of time,” the statement said.

It said measures could try and address the

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