The front page exclusive of the Guardian today (Saturday 27 July) revealed only one in 65 rape cases reported to police result in suspects being summonsed or charged, a Guardian analysis of the latest crime figures has shown.
“The most recent Home Office statistics highlight an alarming decline in rape prosecutions in England and Wales over recent years amid increasingly acrimonious rows over the disclosure of evidence and allegations of policy changes.
The drop is particularly dramatic at a time when victims are reporting more attacks. Four years ago one in seven or 14% of cases led to a suspect being charged or summonsed – a total of 4,908 in 2015-16. Last year fewer than one in 65 reports of rape (1.5%)resulted in a charge or a summons, for a total of only 886 in 2018-19.
The extent of the fall emerged as separate Ministry of Justice figures showed that victims of sexual assault were being forced to wait longer to secure justice in the crown court.
In response to a question by the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, MoJ statistics revealed the average waiting time between a defendant’s not guilty plea in magistrates court and a crown court trial has stretched to seven months in sexual offence cases.
That is a four-week rise since 2011. In some areas the delays are longer. Complainants in Leeds crown court now wait more than twice as long (43.1 weeks) than they did in 2011 (17.8 weeks).
Burgon told the Guardian: “These are deeply troubling figures. Victims of sexual offences should not have to wait so long for their day in court. This will only add to concerns that the chaos the Conservatives have created in our courts and wider justice system is letting down victims of the most serious crimes.”
The justice minister, Paul Maynard, said in his written reply: “The overall median waiting time in crown courts for defendants in sexual offence cases tends to be higher than that for other offences due to a lower guilty plea rate for these cases.
“Demand [for court use] has been falling in recent years and sitting days have been reduced accordingly. Waiting times for trials in the crown court for 2018 have been the lowest since 2014, despite the challenge of increasingly complex cases.”
There has been a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police, perhaps reflected by the #MeToo movement and the determination of more women to seek justice. In the four years from 2015 to2019, the number of rape claims dealt with annually by police in England and Wales rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882.
Last month the government revealed that the average number of days between police submitting a rape case file and the CPS deciding on whether to charge has risen from 32 in 2010-11 to 78 days in 2017-18.
Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, said: “Of course decisions should be considered carefully by the CPS, but such a long wait for a decision to charge reveals an entire system paralysed by self-doubt. This is bad news for complainants and defendants, and for the quality of justice.
“We welcome that there is an official review into the prosecution of rape cases taking place. But we need assurance that it will be totally transparent. We simply must do better by survivors.”
Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women coalition said: “The figures show that overall, of every 200 cases of rape reported to the police, only three will actually be prosecuted and go to trial.
“If nothing changes we could argue that rape has effectively been decriminalised. There is no meaningful access to justice for women, and the men who commit this crime are getting away with it.
“We also want some questions answered about the growth in the category of cases the police call ‘victim withdrawal’. We need examination of what actually lies behind this, because otherwise we fear that it is in fact a convenient way for police and prosecutors to place responsibility on victims for their failings.”
Responding to the decline in prosecutions, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the fact that more victims are having greater confidence to come forward and report these horrendous crimes. However, we are concerned by reductions in charges and prosecutions for crimes such as rape and serious sexual offences.
“We are conducting an end-to-end review of rape cases to establish why this has happened, and identify any issues within the criminal justice system that have contributed to the fall in volumes. This will help us identify where issues exist so we can take steps to improve our response.”