17 March 2020, High Court: EVAW faces CPS in court

Women’s groups face CPS in court for first time as judges consider whether case that CPS has ‘raised the bar’ on rape cases is admissible

Hearing follows dramatic revelation (15 March) that CPS concealed internal report on rape case problems

Rape survivors are available for interview and comment

A national coalition of women’s organisations, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), will face the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) at the High Court tomorrow (17 March) as two senior judges prepare to rule on whether a landmark judicial review challenge against the CPS – alleging it has changed its policy and practice on decision-making in rape cases – is admissible and should be heard in full.

Following a disastrous collapse in charging rates for rape over the last three years, in a period when there has been an increase in reported rape (1), the campaigners and their lawyers at the Centre for Women’s Justice and have compiled evidence from a range of sources lawyers, which shows that rape case charging decisions have become more risk averse. Such a change discriminates against and harms women and girls. The CPS denies this.

Judges at the High Court will tomorrow (17 March) hear counsel for both sides and will rule on whether to permit a full hearing to go ahead.

The hearing comes just 36 hours after a Guardian investigation dramatically revealed that the CPS concealed a critical internal report from its own inspectorate reporting to a cross-government review into rape prosecution problems; this report had found that CPS lawyers have regularly ‘overreached’ and asked police investigators to go back and acquire unnecessary further evidence, which contributed to those cases being left ‘on ice’ and effectively stopped.

The campaigners previously took their concerns to every level of the CPS before seeking legal advice, but found the institution unwilling to examine and address the clearly egregious and ever worsening problem.

The case draws on publicly available criminal justice data showing a shocking collapse in the charging rate; last year there were almost 60,000 reports of rape to the police, but less than 1,800 men charged, and less than 1,000 convictions.

The charging rate fall comes at a time of greater scrutiny of rape decision making and ‘performance’ by police and courts than ever before. There is enormous attention to changing attitudes to rape related to #MeToo and the Harvey Weinstein conviction, but also great worry about the way CPS performance management and issues like the demand for digital evidence may be creating a backdoor for revisiting old sexual double standards stereotypes.

There is enormous public interest in the case. The women’s rights campaigners have raised more than £80,000 in a CrowdJustice crowdfunding appeal where donations of £10 and £20 were accompanied by women leaving messages including:

“I welcome this as a victim who has been discredited by the defence in a rape trial. The arguments used were sexist and misogynistic and deeply insulting and offensive.”

“…I didn’t even report my rape 40 years ago as I knew my chances of seeing the men convicted were slim to nothing. I really hoped things had changed & women would be believed and their cases investigated & prosecuted robustly. Sadly that’s not the case…”

“This appalling treatment of rape victims must be brought to an end.”

“My daughter will never have justice, I support this case on her behalf.”

EVAW Coalition Director Sarah Green said:

“We have felt compelled to bring this case because it is very clear from Government data, and from what women on the frontline are experiencing, that the bar has been raised on charging in rape cases – leaving women denied justice and dangerous offenders getting away with it.

“Last year there were almost 60,000 reports of rape to the police but less than 1,800 men charged and less than 1,000 convictions. This amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape and we must now have the court’s view on whether key management decisions, policy and practice at the CPS are violating women’s human rights to protection and justice.

“We have to take this case – it is a matter of the highest public interest – we need our courts to step in now and adjudicate on what is right and wrong. We are a very small charity and we are overwhelmed by the donations to our crowdfund and the many people who have shared our messages – this indicates the public concern about this matter. We are here for every woman and girl who has sought, is seeking or will seek justice in the future.”

Centre for Women’s Justice Director Harriet Wistrich said:

“The CPS are fighting this case aggressively. They deny they bare any responsibility for the fall in prosecutions, instead blaming the police and changes in disclosure since the Liam Allen case. At no stage have they shared the huge concerns underlying our challenge that more rapists are getting away with it and victims are being denied justice. Instead, they say that there is no basis for our challenge and that EVAW, a small women’s charity, should pay all their costs incurred so far.

“We need to remember why women who report rape to the police take the decision to do so – it is often for the sake of others and to try and stop other women being hurt. We are completely failing to honour this when our system so drastically fails women. Cases we have compiled as supporting evidence in this case include a woman who was held prisoner and threatened with a knife; a woman who was told that she left too much time before reporting which would be viewed negatively in court; and a woman who was repeatedly raped by her abusive husband and had a recording of one of the incidents”.

Background

The statistics for rape case outcomes are collapsing and women’s organisations who work with women and girls who have been assaulted are questioning what is going on in police and prosecution service decision making on their cases.

The EVAW Coalition strongly believes that a major change in policy and practice has occurred at the CPS, with senior leaders directing prosecution leads to “put a touch on the tiller” and effectively drop weaker cases. Such instruction is very likely to leave prosecutors in local areas with the incentive to second guess what a jury might think and decide not to charge for example in cases where the complainant may be ‘blamed’ for what happened due to prejudice and myths about rape. It is not the job of the prosecution service to second guess jury prejudices; the job is to build the strongest case possible, based on each cases ‘merits’ and with an examination of the giving and seeking of consent.

The EVAW Coalition therefore Instructed the Centre for Women’s Justice who launched a major human rights based judicial review challenge against the CPS last Summer arguing that this change in approach violates women’s rights to safety and justice.

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