Today (25th February 2022), the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have published the second and final part of their joint inspection of the investigation and prosecution of rape cases in England and Wales.
The report affirms what survivors and advocates have long known: the criminal justice system is failing victims of rape and widespread, transformative reform is needed to build trust and secure justice.
The inspectorate’s investigation found:
- Lack of collaboration between police and prosecutors created delays and poor communication with victims
- On average, 706 days elapsed from the date of reporting an offence to the police to the start of the trial
- Poor quality communication with victims, including disjointed and contradictory updates to victims about the progress of their case post-charge, if any update was provided at all
- Positive impact of Operation Soteria and shared commitment by the police and the CPS in working together at a national level, although it remains too soon for these changes to transform experiences for victims of rape
- The whole criminal justice system must work together to provide an effective service to victims
Some of the inspectorates’ joint recommendations include significantly improving communications with victims from the point of charge onwards, setting set up specialist rape offence courts to help clear the backlog of cases, and for the Home Office and the Ministerial Lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences to consult on the benefits of a commissioner for tackling rape and serious sexual offences.
We welcome the inspectorates’ centring of victims’ voices and experience, and naming of the deeply problematic relationships between CPS and Police. We also welcome calls for funding for vital support services. What’s more, we echo the inspectors’ frustration at the gravity of the situation for survivors, as well as the lack of positive change. This is spelled out clearly in the powerful survivor quotes detailing the trauma and distress caused at every stage of the criminal justice system. We also welcome recommendations to explore whether specialist rape offence courts would improve outcomes for survivors, although it is critical to listen to survivors and what they want and need.
However, we find the report totally lacking in addressing problems with accountability structures within the CPS, and it fails to address the deeply rooted attitudinal issues and corrosive leadership driving problems with the treatment of rape. The inspectorates instead look to investment and clinical supervision as the answer to these issues, which are factors, but alone will not fix the systemic nature of victim blaming, and rape myths and stereotypes in the justice system. It is this which impacts decision making in cases of rape as well as the treatment of survivors.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“We’re pleased to see the police and CPS inspectorates echoing our calls for transformation in how the justice system treats rape. For too long, survivors have faced appalling treatment when reporting rape – not being believed, being retraumatised throughout the justice process, and ultimately not seeing a conviction.
However we would expect to see the inspectorates take a systemic approach to resolving these deeply rooted issues within the CPS. The culture of the institution needs to transform with strong leadership, accountability and a commitment to changing the attitudes and practice driving these failures.
In the decriminalisation of rape report, EVAW and our partners outlined clear actions that must be taken to rebuild our broken justice system. This includes an in-depth review of CPS governance, legally qualified advocates for victims in rape and sexual abuse cases, a review of the courtroom cross-examination rules and a commissioning model that funds Rape Crisis centres and specialist support services led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised survivors. We urge government, the CPS and police chiefs to take urgent action to radically transform their approach to rape.”
Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales, said:
“Rape Crisis England & Wales have spoken extensively of how catastrophic failures within the criminal justice system are impacting rape victims and survivors, and this report, as well as the many other reports that came before it, further evidences the depth of the issue. Throughout the police, CPS and court system, victims and survivors are facing ineptitude, indifference and misogyny. The situation is unacceptable, and immediate action is needed.
We support the recommendations set out by the inspectorates and commend the amount of work and level of detail that has gone into this report. If actioned, these could transform how victims and survivors experience the justice system. However, we now require an in-depth review of CPS Governance in order to hold such poor performance to account and prevent such a scandalous drop in rape prosecutions happening again.”
The inspectorates’ joint report comes off the back of the Crown Prosecution Service’s update to the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) strategy for the five year period from 2020-2025 and its new Pre-Trial Therapy Fundamental Principles, released this week on the 22nd February. It’s clear the RASSO strategy is essentially meaningless if its impacts aren’t being felt on the ground, by survivors and the services supporting them.
We also have serious concerns about the CPS’ approach to Pre-Trial Therapy notes and disclosure, which the principles document did nothing to allay. We will be keenly scrutinising the development of this principles in light of the forthcoming Attorney General’s Disclosure Guidelines review, as counselling notes do not belong in the courtroom.
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