European data laws are putting women and children at risk, according to a number of charities, because police are now “scared” to share vital information about perpetrators of domestic abuse with support groups.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which gives people more control over how their data is collected and used, is also impeding prosecutors’ ability to pursue domestic abuse perpetrators, they say.
Held regularly across Scotland, Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs), is a forum for police, social services, the NHS and domestic abuse charities to come together to discuss potential victims of abuse and how to help them – they are also the main area of focus for this issue.
Originally introduced in Wales in 2001, 27 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities hold MARACs. Women’s Aid says that some officers at Police Scotland will not share key information such as the perpetrator’s offending history.
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Chief executive Marsha Scott said: “Women’s Aid groups have said the sharing of critical information to them by police varies from area to area because of interpretations by police on GDPR laws. There’s a reluctance for some officers at MARACs to share information they did previously. There’s an element of inconsistency that is causing us concern.
“MARACs have ultimately been set up to protect vulnerable women and children and we shouldn’t have situations where information is not being shared in one area but is in another.”
Support organisation Assist said this reluctance and inconsistency is making it harder to provide domestic abuse victims with safety planning. “The changes have reduced service users’ confidence in the partnership approach, which it is believed will have an impact on prevention,” said a company spokesperson. “This reduction in Glasgow’s coordinated response increases the risk to some victims.”
Organisations that breach GDPR, either by losing data or sharing it without permission, face fines of up to £20 million. Last year, Police Scotland refused to share the identities of Scottish criminals on the run saying it would breach GDPR’s rules on the sharing of personal data.
Scottish Labour equalities spokeswoman, Pauline McNeil MSP, said: “Co-ordination and sharing of information between services is vital to the safety of women who are at risk of violence. I will be pressing the justice secretary for reassurances over the position of Police Scotland and what can be done to rectify this situation.”
Assistant chief constable Gillian MacDonald of Police Scotland said the force is “committed to keeping people safe and working with partners to ensure that the threat of risk and harm is minimised across all our communities.
“Police Scotland divisional concern hubs assess and share relevant and proportionate information with partners to enable appropriate interventions and support in compliance with statutory requirements, national guidance and GDPR.
“We are currently developing an approach specific to services provided by our third sector partners, including on domestic abuse, that maximises access to support, advocacy and interventions while remaining compliant with the legislation and GDPR”.
The Scottish Government said: “We expect partner agencies to maintain good working relationships and meet GDPR obligations when sharing appropriate information.”