Inquest into rape prosecutions highlights endemic failure

Peter Stoddart is the Student Officer of the YCL

A joint report commissioned by the Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Inspectorates has accused the two organisations of engaging in a “blame game“, which ultimately results in a failure to prosecute sexual offences.

The report, published today, said “both organisations argued that the other was to blame for the low conviction rates.” It continued, “Until this blame culture is eradicated, a real shift in attitudes seems unachievable“.

The latest CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape and other sexual offences in England and Wales last year, the lowest level since records began, despite police reports of adult rape almost doubling in the last 5 years.

The report found that there was a culture of defeatism in both organisations and highlighted a fundamental lack of cooperation between the CPS and the Police in England and Wales. It can be read in full here.

The report reviewed 500 “no further action” cases and found that the average time for police to decide to take no further action was 79 days, it took 218 days for the police to refer the case to the CPS, and 456 for the CPS to then make a decision to not take the case to trial.

These chronic delays in turn result in increased drop out rates and contribute to the enduring sense that the police are unable and unwilling to prosecute rape cases.

If this is to improve, the report said “… the police have to make sure that victims are engaged and supported at the earliest possible opportunity, and throughout the criminal justice system process.

Unsurprisingly, the report also identified the victim blaming behaviour so often seen in the police and the CPS, echoing the Government’s own report published last month. It described the work of the police and the CPS in focusing on the victims of rape rather the perpetrators.

The report made thirteen overall recommendations on how to improve current proceedings, some of which were as fundamental as “ensuring that protected characteristics of rape victims is accurately and consistently recorded.”

The report also highlighted the continuing impact of austerity on both the CPS and the Police. It stated, “Austerity has forced the police and the CPS to make difficult decisions about where to prioritise resources. We were told that this led the police and the CPS to ‘look inwards’, and not always fully consider the wider implications of the choices they made for victims or other criminal justice partners.

Cuts to the police have seen specialist rape units disbanded, while the CPS has seen its staffing reduced by around a third in the last decade. From the so-called party of law and order, this report further compounds the impact of Tory austerity on our communities.

More than this, the report highlights the continued failing on all sides which is contributing to the declining prosecution rates for sexual assaults. The initial recommendations of the report are welcome, but it’s clear they do not go far enough.

A systemic overhaul of the prosecution system is urgently required. Victims of sexual assault have already lost faith in the justice system, and the statistics, nevermind the individual tragedies, make it clear to see why.

Peter Stoddart

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