CPS and police announce new measures to tackle rape
The Director of Public Prosecutions and the national policing lead for adult sexual offences have today announced major new action to tackle rape, and are together calling for a renewed challenge against persistent myths and stereotypes they believe are still having a negative impact on cases.
DPP Alison Saunders and Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt have published a new national rape action plan in which they set out their clear commitment to addressing the issues preventing rape cases from successfully progressing through the criminal justice system.
- Steps to ensure better application of the legislation on consent and that police and prosecutors focus on steps taken by a suspect to seek consent from their alleged victim where this is an issue.
- Updating the joint police and CPS national rape protocol on the investigation and prosecution of rape cases.
- Steps to monitor police decisions to take no further action in rape cases, including the quality of record-keeping and authorisation of decision making.
- New practical guidance for frontline police officers and prosecutors.
- A National Conference later this year with all specialist rape prosecutors and police rape leads to raise awareness of key issues.
- Reviews of the operation of CPS rape and serious sexual assault units and the instruction of appropriate advocates in rape trials.
The action plan is the outcome of more than six months of work and a rape scrutiny panel convened to investigate the fall in the number of rape-flagged cases referred by police to the CPS. New figures already show an 8% rise in the volume of police referrals for 2013-14, compared with 2012-13, and the CPS charged 700 more defendants over the same period, which is an increase of 25% from the previous year. This increase in volume will take time to impact on statistics for completed cases.
In the last year the total number of completed prosecutions and convictions increased, but the conviction rate has dropped from 63.2% in 2012-13 to 60.3% in 2013-14. The action plan announced today also aims to address this fall in conviction rate, while maintaining the rise in volumes.
Professor Liz Kelly, London Metropolitan University and Co-Chair of End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “I warmly welcome this joint initiative, especially the focus on investigating the steps taken to get consent and monitoring decision making where cases are not proceeded with. I am pleased to see that already 700 more defendants have been charged in 2013-14 compared to the previous year but we need to see a corresponding rise in convictions. Everyone reporting sexual violence deserves the highest standards from the criminal justice system and the National Scrutiny Panel has identified actions which, if implemented consistently across England and Wales, provide an opportunity to achieve this.”
Announcing the new plans Alison Saunders, DPP, said: “Over the last year we have worked hard to increase the volume of rape cases referred by the police and charged by prosecutors and our latest figures are certainly encouraging. But even though there have been slightly more defendants convicted, the steady increase in conviction rates we have seen in recent years has halted, and this must be addressed immediately. I am determined to ensure our long-term progress to tackle rape continues, particularly in dispelling the myths and stereotypes surrounding these types of cases. The new action plan makes very clear that, as with cases of child sexual abuse, the focus of any investigation and case preparation should not be on the credibility of the victim but on the credibility of the overall allegation, including the actions of the suspect. Our figures show that the proportion of cases ending in jury acquittals has increased by 4.2% over the past year. Myths and stereotypes still pervade throughout society and have the potential to influence jurors too. We have a part to play in fighting any pre-conceptions through the way we handle and present our cases to those juries. Where cases turn on the issue of consent prosecutors must focus on what steps a suspect has taken to seek consent from the complainant and the extent to which an alleged victim is capable of giving consent”.
National Police Lead for Adult Sexual Offences, Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, said: “Rape and sexual offences are uniquely damaging crimes for the victim. They are also complex to investigate and prosecute, and victims’ needs and reactions vary from person to person. All the changes we have made in the way police deal with sexual offences - specialist training of officers, the introduction of early evidence kits, greater access to sexual assault referral centres and working closely with support groups - are changes that have emerged from looking at ourselves and realising that we can do things better. We’ve taken another hard look at how we do things and found room for further improvements. We are determined that the service we provide to victims is the best it can be so that more victims have the confidence to report, knowing that they will get the support they need to go through the criminal justice process and that we will do everything we can to bring offenders to justice. This action plan will help to achieve this.”