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PPS to review why there are so few rape prosecutions

By Deborah McAleese

The Public Prosecution Service has been told to review its prosecution policies in sex abuse cases after it emerged that 75% of rape cases are not prosecuted.

An investigation by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) has found that almost three-quarters of rape cases are not taken forward for prosecution.

A CJINI report released today into the handling of sexual violence and abuse cases by the Criminal Justice System said the exact reason for the low prosecution rate “is not clear”.

The report also claimed that at the decision-making stage prosecutors “tended to concentrate on the negative aspects of the case rather than highlighting the supporting evidence.”

“This was particularly evident in cases where the victim had consumed large quantities of alcohol, where assumptions were being made about credibility based on lifestyle and there was evidence of some stereotyping,” the report claimed.

The report acknowledges that the PPS and the PSNI have established a steering group on cases involving rape and that one of the actions being undertaken was to identify no-prosecution cases and the reason for the decisions.

Investigators also found that conviction rates for crimes of sexual violence relative to the number that are reported is “very low.”

The report raised concern over high rates of under-reporting of sexual abuse and said the justice system “must take all lawful steps open to it, to ensure that victims of sexual violence and abuse experience the best possible service under very demanding circumstances”.

The inspection highlighted a number of areas where performance could be improved including:

  • Provision of better support and information to victims as their case progresses;
  • Accelerating speed with which cases are progressed;
  • A need for justice organisations to continually review the reasons why cases do not progress through the justice system.

Dr Michael Maguire, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said the criminal justice agencies need to collectively work to strengthen how they engage with victims.

Dr Maguire added however: “We also found that more could be done collectively by the organisations that make up the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland to support victims of sexual offences.”

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