Rape victims are finding it increasingly difficult to access justice as police refer fewer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service and fewer allegations of rape are being prosecuted and convicted, according to new figures.
The number of cases referred by the police for charging decisions fell by 32% in the year to September 2019, while prosecutions by the CPS fell 26%, and convictions dropped 21%, according to quarterly CPS prosecution data across a range of crimes.
The victims’ commissioner for England and Wales has called on the attorney general to reject a recent report by the CPS inspectorate which concluded the service was not to blame for a precipitous drop in rape charges.
Dame Vera Baird urged Geoffrey Cox QC to carry out an in-depth inquiry into the quality of CPS decision-making.
Rape charges brought by the CPS fell 38% in 2018-19, even as the number of people reporting rape to the police sharply increased, figures in the CPS’s annual VAWG report showed.
Charging volumes fell between October 2018 and June 2019, then increased by 4% between July and September that year, around the same time as an intention to bring a judicial review into the CPS’ charging decisions was announced.
The director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, said it was right to scrutinise the performance of the criminal justice system.
“I share the deep public concern over the growing gap between the number of rapes being reported, and the number of criminals being convicted of this sickening offence,” he said.
“The CPS is playing an active role in the cross-government review which is looking right across the system to understand the reasons for this. There is a clear need for end-to-end action to provide better support for victims of this devastating crime, and to bring more offenders to justice.”
The End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Women’s Aid and other women’s groups have also written to the attorney general saying the CPS inspectorate report failed to answer whether rape charging policy and practice at the CPS had become more risk averse. The coalition launched a legal challenge against the CPS in September last year.
The report was commissioned as part of a major government review of the treatment of rape in the criminal justice system last year, commissioned following a collapse in the charging of rape cases, and fears that the CPS was dropping weaker cases.
The HMCPSI report said there was no evidence the CPS had become more risk averse, but that the system – and in particular police-led investigations – were under-resourced to “breaking point”.
However, in their seven-page report to the attorney general, the victims’ groups said it was “unfathomable” that the report had failed to properly investigate a 10% rise in the rape conviction rate, which the inspectorate itself had said was one factor which might show a more risk-averse approach.
Sarah Green, the EVAW Coalition director, said the groups did not criticise the report lightly, “but our concerns are so serious that we felt we needed to put them on record and alert those who are making decisions about the next steps of the rape review.
“We urge the attorney general and other Criminal Justice Board members to start again on examining CPS decision making. This is critical if the whole rape review’s eventual recommendations are to be sound.”
The groups have also criticised the inspectorate for not speaking to any victims during its investigation. Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, said she feared advocates and victims’ voices were being excluded from the debate.
“The situation around rape is now really at a crisis point,” she said. “We are concerned that survivors’ voices are not at the centre of discussions about policies and law, but not surprised. Sometimes it feels like there is a checklist exercise going on, rather than work of any substance being carried out.”