Collapse in number of rape cases charged by CPS despite huge rise in reports

Women’s groups call for independent review after a 23% drop in charges for rape

EVAW calls for an independent review of why the number of rapes charged by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last year dropped by nearly a quarter despite reporting rates going through the roof.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition said that the shocking figure of a 23% drop in the number of rape cases charged by the CPS last year (down from 3,671 in 2016/17 to 2,822 in 2017/18), contained in the CPS’ annual report on prosecuting crimes of violence against women published today (26 September), comes when the number of rapes reported to the police is increasing exponentially every year, reaching more than 41,000 in 2016/17 (1).

Today’s figures come on the heels of investigations by the Guardian newspaper this week which have found that young adult men are much more likely to be acquitted of rape when tried, and that senior CPS leaders have encouraged prosecutors to drop ‘weak’ cases (2).

EVAW Coalition Co-Director Sarah Green said:

“We need to remember that behind these figures lie real lives, and decisions to seek justice for one of the most serious crimes on the book, one which does enormous harm to individuals and those around them.

“This is a collapse in rape justice and we need to know why this has happened and what those in charge of the justice system are going to do about it.

“Yesterday the Guardian newspaper published extremely serious allegations that senior CPS leaders have talked to prosecutors around the country, urging them to drop difficult rape cases. This agenda of chasing targets instead of justice cannot work for this very serious crime.

“We now need the Justice Secretary and the Attorney General to commission an independent review of exactly what changed in CPS policy and practice over the last 18 months and how we can improve outcomes for victims of rape.  This review should also include a full review of how the whole justice system deals with rape; from the support victims receive, the way police handle cases and decisions made around charging and bailing suspects, all the way to how the case is heard in court and what information and training prosecutors, judges and juries need to make a fair decision.

“If what the Guardian has discovered about the coaching of prosecutors to reject some cases is true, and if it is connected to this drastic drop in the rape charging rate, then perhaps the CPS should be regarded as having redefined rape without the permission of the law. This merits nothing less than independent examination and a report to Parliament.

Further background and concerns

In late 2017 and early 2018 there was huge media and political attention to problems with the disclosure of digital evidence to the defence, which the CPS responded to in January by announcing a review of all live rape cases, despite tit being clearly recognised that disclosure problems exist across crime types. The decision to exceptionalise rape and run this review, and the final report, are likely to have added to the narrative which is concerned that rape allegations are more likely to be false than other reports of crime, which research shows not to be the case. In fact, rape is very under reported. The EVAW Coalition and others concerned with women’s access to justice gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee setting out our concerns on the impact approaches to disclosure has on rape victims.

Yesterday’s Guardian revealed the extremely intrusive requests for permission to access all electronic devices and personal records, including health, social services and school records, are routinely made by some police forces to those who report rape before they begin an investigation. Women’s organisations are very concerned that the knowledge of this level of intrusion and scrutiny is profoundly anxiety-inducing for many rape survivors who are contemplating reporting, and may be a significant inhibitor.

Notes

  1. In 2012/13, the police recorded 16,374 rape offences, and in 2016/17 this figure leapt to 41,186, of which only 3,671 were charged. (Rape Monitoring Group).
  2. Young men more likely to be acquitted finds Guardian FOI: here. And investigation into CPS leaders pushing for ‘weak’ cases to be dropped here.

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