CPS unveils five-year blueprint to boost rape convictions

The Crown Prosecution Service has launched a new strategy to tackle tumbling rates of charging and prosecution for rape, following sustained criticism that the service is failing victims of sexual assault.

The unveiling of the CPS’s five-year “blueprint” for prosecuting rape and serious sexual assault comes as it releases data that is expected to show that the number of rape cases being charged by prosecutors remains at its lowest for a decade.

The CPS will create a joint action plan with police to try to address the current chasm between the number of reports of sexual offences in England and Wales and the number of convictions. In 2018-19 there were 58,657 reports to police, but only 1,925 convictions for rape.

“Rape and serious sexual offences are abhorrent crimes which can have a profound and lasting impact,” said Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions. “It is clear that more needs to be done both to encourage victims to come forward with confidence, and to support them through the criminal justice process so the gap between reports of rape and cases that reach the courts can be closed.”

The announcement comes amid a government review into the treatment of rape in the criminal justice system following the precipitous drop in prosecutions and convictions for rape.

A key part of the CPS strategy will see it consult on pre-trial therapy guidance, a proposal welcomed by campaigners, who have long argued that the current rules on disclosure risk harming women’s mental health. Current CPS guidance states that complainants should avoid discussing details of their abuse with a therapist while a trial is ongoing and that therapy notes can be used as evidence in court.

“The new pre-trial therapy guidelines must ensure victims and survivors aren’t deterred or blocked from receiving this essential support,” said Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales.

She added that the announcement came after years of campaigners and victims providing evidence of a failing system and calling for its overhaul, which had “too often been met with evasiveness and complacency”.

“The Crown Prosecution Service’s acknowledgement that there is a justice gap that needs addressing is a positive first step. Alongside the government’s ongoing review, we sincerely hope this will begin to make some of the difference so urgently needed,” she said.

The CPS also faced a legal challenge, brought by the Centre for Women’s Justice on behalf of the End Violence Against Women coalition, accusing it of adopting a secret policy in rape investigations to drop supposedly “weak” cases in order to boost conviction rates. The high court did not give the EVAW coalition permission to seek a judicial review, a decision it will contest in the court of appeal on Thursday.

According to the new CPS blueprint, there will be a greater focus on training specialist prosecutors to understand technological advances, tactics employed by offenders and victim behaviour, as well as guidance on dealing with same-sex sexual violence and sexual violence involving a transgender complainant or defendant.

Sarah Green, director of the EVAW coalition, said the strategy was a welcome step, but added: “This range of measures is likely to feel too little, too late for the thousands of rape survivors failed by the criminal justice system in recent years.

“What’s needed now is a real shift in effective leadership in rape and sexual offences, from ministers to the heads of the criminal justice system, to ensure that survivors have a chance at accessing justice in future.”


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.