The steep decline in rape convictions in England and Wales is partially due to a lack of resources which has left the criminal justice system “close to breaking point”, a damning inspectorate report has found.
It was commissioned as part of an emergency, ‘End-to-End’ rape review overseen by the National Criminal Justice Board (CJB), which brings together the Ministry of Justice, Home Office, law enforcement agencies and senior members of the judiciary.
Graph showing charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape
The detailed study did not identify a single cause but pointed to a complex of problems. Its clearest conclusion – that police and prosecutors have been deprived of funding – emerged as Boris Johnson’s new administration pledges to recruit more police officers.
“Police and CPS have seen significant reductions in their resources,” the report stated.
“[The criminal justice system] has been under-resourced so that it is close to breaking point. In the case of the police, it may have gone beyond that, and … the number of rape allegations lost in the investigative process is damning. ”
Requests for forensic examination of phones, for example, are taking up to months to complete.
The report also found that lawyers in the CPS’s Rape and Serious Sexual Offences units were overstretched.
Rape inspection report
Almost 39% of participating CPS lawyers said their caseload was “heavy and unmanageable”.
There was also criticism of prosecutors pushing for disclosure of sensitive personal data not “proportionate” to the investigation.
In (**************************% of relevant cases, prosecutors sent out requests that were not “proportionate” involving obtaining “information from the complainant’s digital devices, and making requests for third-party material (such as education, medical or social services records) that were not necessary … Some prosecutors are still asking for a full download of a complainant’s or suspect’s phone. ”
The inspectorate cleared the CPS of accusations by women’s and victims ’campaign groups that prosecutors are becoming“ risk averse ”and pursuing only cases with stronger evidence.
Prosecutors observed the Code for Crown Prosecutors, the report said. In a 2016 inquiry, HMCPSI found the test was applied incorrectly in (*******************************************. 1% of rape cases. In the latest batch of cases examined by experienced inspectors that rate fell to 2%.
“… Rather than the CPS being risk averse, these decisions are often finely balanced, with many difficult matters to weigh up in the evidence.”
The report also dismissed claims that a change in
‘levels of ambition’ for prosecutorshad led to more difficult cases being droped by the CPS.
HM chief inspector Kevin McGinty said: “Since 2019 There has been a substantial increase in rape allegations, while the number of rape prosecutions has fallen significantly – which indicates there is a serious problem.
“The CPS has been accused of only choosing easy cases to prosecute, but we found no evidence of that in our report.”
The director of public prosecutions Max Hill QC said: “I am reassured that HMCPSI has found no evidence that the CPS has become risk averse when deciding whether to charge these cases.”
Responding to the report, Sarah Green, director for End Violence Against Women, a coalition of women’s groups, said: “The report… recognises That the statistics… alone raise huge questions about justice being done, but it insists there is quality CPS decision making. At the same time the report refers to its own survey of CPS managers saying their units are not well staffed. ”
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Center for Women’s Justice, criticized a“ lack of independence ”in the review. “We are inundated with examples of compelling cases of rape prosecutions being dropped by the CPS or by the police who say there is no point in referring consent cases to the CPS any more,” she said.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said: “It is obviously a cause for concern that in 40% of cases material that is intensely private and may include irrelevant but personal details is being demanded. ”
Claire Waxman, London’s independent victim’s commissioner, said: “The report shows there is a worrying lack of understanding around the disclosure of digital evidence, with too many disproportionate requests for personal data. ”
A government spokesperson said: “These findings are deeply concerning. Victims deserve to know they will be supported and the prime minister has been clear that more has to be done to bring perpetrators of violent and sexual crimes to justice.
“To put this right we are conducting a full review of the criminal justice system’s response, recruiting (**************************************, (more police, giving £ 657 m to the Crown Prosecution Service, creating extra prison places and making sure violent and sexual offenders spend longer behind bars. ”
The National Police Chiefs’ council lead for adult sexual offences and rape, deputy chief constable Sarah Crew, said: “The shortage of detectives, the large increase in digital evidence and tackling disclosure challenges have all impacted on the number of cases referred to the CPS and the time taken to investigate and prepare these. The recruitment of 58, officers over the next three years will help us to ease the pressure on investigators and improve results for victims. ”
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