The London assembly’s police and crime committee has written to the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, amid concerns over a “toxic combination” of falling convictions in rape and sexual offence cases despite a rise in reports and a backlog of cases in the courts.
Fresh research by the committee reveals that reported rapes and other sexual offences in the capital are less likely to result in a conviction now than they were five years ago.
According to figures gathered from the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service, reports of rape and sexual offences in London increased by 25% between 2015 and 2020, but convictions dropped by almost a quarter, and the time it takes to bring charges of rape almost tripled.
Furthermore, whereas one in nine reports led to a conviction five years ago, now only one in 16 results in a guilty verdict.
Unmesh Desai, chair of the London assembly police and crime committee, said: “The toxic combination of significantly more reported sexual offences alongside a depressing failure to undertake successful prosecutions is a deeply worrying trend which leads victims to lose confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Concerns have also been raised that the backlog of cases and a lack of preparedness in the courts will lead to more rape cases dropping out of the system, as further delays could impact victims’ confidence and willingness to pursue a prosecution.
Rape cases take longer to charge than any other type of crime. In 2015-16, it took on average 53 days for a charge to be brought, and by 2019-20 that had increased to 145 days.
In addition to lengthy charging times, victims will have to wait for longer for their cases to reach court. More than 500,000 cases are waiting to be heard in magistrates and crown courts in England after jury trials were suspended during the coronavirus lockdown, and courts have not yet been adequately equipped to reopen.
The committee heard of one rape survivor who had already waited for over two years for their case to be heard and now faces further delays due to a lack of perspex screens in the court.
“If all other businesses and organisations across the country are ensuring that their premises are Covid-19 secure, it’s disgraceful that something as easy to fix as this is adding a further delay in bringing perpetrators to justice. Victims of rape and sexual offences already have so many hurdles to overcome without the added pressure of long delays to get their day in court,” said Desai.
The divergence in reports and prosecutions of rape and sexual offences is also reflected across the justice system in England and Wales. Figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service last week showed that completed prosecutions for crimes against women and girls had plummeted in England and Wales since the beginning of the pandemic.
Completed rape prosecutions halved in the three months to June 2020 compared with the previous quarter.
A Government spokesperson said, “Victims of rape and sexual offences deserve to know that their cases will be taken seriously and pursued rigorously through the courts.
“That is why we are working with survivors’ groups and the Victims’ Commissioner to review the way cases are handled, while recruiting more police, investing an extra £85m in the CPS and locking up serious offenders for longer to restore confidence in the justice system.
“We are also boosting funding for more vital services and recruiting extra advisers who support victims so they get the help they need.”