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Inquiry urged after report fails to explain drop in rape cases brought to court

Inspectors said the reasons for the reduction in rape prosecutions were ‘not straightforward’.

Rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 2008 (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 2008 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

The Victims’ Commissioner has called on the Prime Minister to urgently launch an independent inquiry after inspectors failed to explain why the number of rape cases prosecutors were bringing to court has plummeted.

Dame Vera Baird criticised the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) report on the actions of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), claiming it lacked independence, a “determination to find the truth” and failed to listen to victims.

Her comments come after campaigners said they were “hugely disappointed” with the report which found the drop in charges was of “serious concern” but said the reasons for the reduction in rape prosecutions were “not straightforward”.

Dame Vera said: “Last week the Prime Minister promised to improve the criminal justice system and make it easier for victims to come forward.

“His manifesto commitment of an inquiry into the criminal justice system needs to be actioned urgently.

“Important aspects of such an inquiry, which this report lacks, would be its independence, its determination to find the truth and that it should listen to the experiences of victims.”

She said the HMCPSI report “throws no light” on the disparity between reported rapes and successful prosecutions, adding: “CPS charges were the lowest ever recorded this year yet the organisation’s own inspectorate is unable to tell victims why this should be.

“The huge majority of victims whose lives are shattered by rape and whose cases are never pursued to prosecution deserve answers.

“These people are not statistics to be put into an annex to a long-winded report which fails to get to the point, they are vulnerable people who have suffered a most damaging crime and who have been let down by the agencies tasked with delivering justice.”

Rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 2008, despite record numbers of allegations reported to police, with around 3.3% of all reported rapes ending in a conviction.

In the year to March, there were 58,657 allegations of rape and 1,925 successful prosecutions for the offence, HMCPSI said.

The Attorney General ordered the inspection to investigate why successful prosecutions had dropped by 52% even though the number of rape allegations reported to police rose by 43% and to determine whether the CPS was to blame.

The inspection considered around 900 rape cases – including those which resulted in a charge or no further action and those sent back to police for further investigation.

The report found that, since CPS rape and serious sexual offences units (RASSO) were last inspected in 2016, there had been a 23% drop in the number of cases referred to the CPS for a decision by police – meaning just 8% are now referred – and nearly a third were sent back to officers for further investigation.

Last month, the CPS was forced to defend its position after reports emerged of allegations it had introduced a secret target for rape convictions after critics feared this meant it was only picking “easy” cases to prosecute.

HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty said “we found no evidence of that in our report”.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Centre for Women’s Justice said they were “alarmed” by the findings and accused the inspection of not being fully independent.

The findings noted both police and the CPS had seen “significant reductions in their resources” while cases had become “more complex” because more evidence is on digital devices such as mobile phones and social media which can take longer to process.

The report said: “To improve how the police handle this evidence, it is clear there needs to be better communication between the police and the CPS.”

The CPS said it accepts all the recommendations and it was working with the police to “build the strongest possible cases from the outset, and bringing them before the court as quickly as possible”.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said work was already being carried out to address problems raised in the report.

PA

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