A UK-wide Coalition of women’s organisations, represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), commenced legal proceedings against the Crown Prosecution Service at the High Court today (24 September), claiming that the CPS has covertly changed its policy and practice in relation to decision-making on rape cases, leading to a dramatic fall in the number of rape cases being charged.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) argues that this change in practice, and the resulting collapse in cases going to court, discriminates against women and girls, and is a major failure to protect their human rights. It is appalling that such a change should be implemented at a time when more women than ever are coming forward and reporting this serious crime.
Since the Letter Before Action to the CPS in June (1) that outlined the case and was the first step in the Judicial Review proceedings, EVAW and the CWJ have been building and finalising the case and raising vital funds through their CrowdJustice campaign. (2) The case has now been formally submitted to the High Court in order to go before a Judge.
EVAW Coalition Campaigns Manager Rebecca Hitchen said:
“In the last two months our lawyers at the Centre for Women’s Justice have been tirelessly building and finalising the case against the CPS and we are extremely confident in the evidence that has been amassed. Statistics released by the CPS just last week revealed the prosecution rate to be the lowest on record, showing the urgency and importance of this legal action.
“Every day survivors of rape are being failed by a criminal justice system which appears to have effectively decriminalised rape. We argue that CPS leaders have quietly changed their approach to decision-making in rape cases, switching from building cases based on their ‘merits’ back to second-guessing jury prejudices.
“It is vital that the CPS, a state institution so central to women’s access to justice, is held to account for any internal policy change that has adversely impacted the likelihood of rape cases reaching court.
“While EVAW and CWJ are only two small organisations, going against the legal giant of the CPS, we remain undaunted by the prospect as we know their failings cannot continue unchecked. We have heard from so many women who’ve been raped, and from our member organisations who support survivors of rape, telling us about cases being dropped for unfathomable reasons.(2)
“Given the strong public interest in this case we are hopeful that this matter goes before a judge at the earliest possible opportunity.
The CPS and Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that while rapes reported to the police have nearly tripled (up by 173%) between 2014 and 2019, the number of cases charged and sent to court is actually down by 51% across 5 years and is the lowest on record. (2)(3)
Harriet Wistrich, Director of the Centre for Women’s Justice who is bringing this case for EVAW, said:
“The CPS have said they will robustly defend this claim and deny any responsibility for the dramatic decline in prosecution, instead blaming the police and disclosure issues.
However, we have undertaken a major research and evidence gathering exercise and have presented a large mass of compelling evidence from a range of sources, including expert statistical analysis, whistle blowing testimony, a dossier of 20 cases and accounts from police and frontline advocates, which together show that a small cultural shift at the top of the CPS has had a butterfly effect leading to the devastating changes.’
Katie Russell, National Spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales said:
“Rape Crisis England & Wales and its member Centres have witnessed the Criminal Justice System routinely and significantly failing victims and survivors of all forms of sexual violence and abuse for many years.
For the same considerable length of time, we have called for an urgent and complete overhaul of the System to improve access to justice for those subjected to these serious, traumatic crimes, which have wide-ranging, long-lasting impacts on their lives and health.
But while victims’ and survivors’ willingness to report to the police has continued to increase, criminal justice outcomes for them have sharply and alarmingly declined, particularly in the last two years. The situation is now beyond critical and cannot be allowed to continue. This is why we are supporting this legal action.”
The EVAW Coalition has been driven to action after many years of monitoring rape and justice system statistics and outcomes, and after hearing from its member organisations and many individual women about appalling decision-making by the CPS in rape cases. EVAW’s lawyers have collated a dossier of 21 cases where decisions have been made not to charge despite compelling evidence, and in some cases where men were known to be violent and some suspected of being serial offenders (4).
Rebecca* was raped at knifepoint and held prisoner for two days by her boyfriend, a man who was known by the police to be violent. Despite lots of evidence of violence against Rebecca, the CPS prosecutor dropped the case saying Whatsapp messages she had sent to placate her attacker could be misinterpreted by the jury.
Rebecca* said of her experience:
“I was told by the police that I had a really strong case – my rapist was known to them, and unknown to me he had a history of violence against previous partners, plus I had evidence of the attack. But a judgement was made about my physical reaction to being raped not being the right one, and the CPS dropped my case. I was denied my day in court and this man was able to walk free and not answer for what he did to me – and if he could do that to me, he could do the same to someone else.”
Gina* was raped repeatedly by her husband but the case was dropped because the CPS prosecutor felt the jury may not understand the dynamics of a coercive and controlling relationship. Rape in a domestic violence context is a large proportion of rapes reported to police and referred on to CPS.
Survivor Beth* said of her experience:
“To have built the courage to finally go forward after other sexual offences and a rape had happened, and then for the case to be dropped like that, it made me think well if you’re a kid growing up with abuse then you really have nowhere to turn to.” (7)
A full media briefing, with more details about the challenge and case studies of cases dropped is available on request.
Spokespeople for EVAW and Centre for Women’s Justice are available to comment
The challenge is being funded by a CrowdJustice appeal: www.crowdjustice.com/case/justice-after-rape
* Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of rape survivors.
Notes to editors:
4. The number of rapes reported to the police was 20,083 in 2013/14 and increased to 56,698 in RYTD Sept 2018 (173% increase). Source: Police Recorded Crime/MOJ. The number of rape flagged cases which proceeded to prosecution was 3,621 in 2013/14 and fell to 1758 in 18/19. Source: CPS https://www.cps.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/publications/cps-vawg-report-2019.pdf
5. Figures released earlier this year by the CPS show prosecutions are at a 10 year low, since records began: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/sep/12/prosecutions-in-england-and-wales-at-lowest-level-in-a-decade
6. Information about some of the cases in the dossier is in a Media Briefing, available on request.