Women’s organisations (1) have expressed “huge disappointment” at the findings of the HMCPSI report released today (17 December), which concludes that there is no issue with Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision making when it comes to the prosecution of rape.
The women’s groups, including the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis England & Wales, the Centre for Women’s Justice, Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid are alarmed that the report recognises the enormous potential justice gap shown by the statistics on rape reports and charging decisions, something women’s organisations have referred to as “the effective decriminalisation of rape”, but goes on to say compliance with ‘Code test’ decision making has actually improved and then resigns itself to rape prosecutions being “not straightforward.” This comes at a time when the charges for rape are the lowest on record (2).
Sarah Green, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition says:
“The report is profoundly disappointing in many ways. It recognises that the statistics – on many thousands of rape allegations and prosecutions – alone raise huge questions about justice being done, but it insists there is quality CPS decision making. At the same time the report refers to its own survey of CPS managers saying their units are not well staffed.
“The report appears to leave many questions at the police front door, even though the Government’s own analysis of the whole justice system performance in relation to rape earlier this year as the first stage of the Rape Review, found clearly that the numbers of rape cases arriving at the CPS and going through to charge and prosecution have declined at a faster rate than the decline in referrals from the police to CPS.
“Moreover, the report as a whole, while detailed, betrays a huge lack of curiosity as to what, then, the problem must be. Rape is a difficult crime to evidence and prosecute – no one has said otherwise – but it is also an enormous volume crime and it does enormous harm. It cannot remain a mystery or in the ‘too difficult box’. We find the HMCPSI report to be dry; it doesn’t reflect on the specialism required for good rape investigation and case building. It makes no reference, for example, to what is happening with younger defendants, whom the Government analysis observed are much less likely to be charged in same scenario cases.
“We think this report could have been much better. We urge the Government, all participants in the Rape Review and everyone with responsibility and authority in the justice system to step up their attention to what is happening with the prosecution of rape in England and Wales because it is woeful.”
The HMCPSI report states that CPS decision making is not risk averse, and fully endorses CPS decision making – going so far as to set it out as a strength that they are achieving a high level of Code compliance. This flies in the face of the reality that since the HMCPSI 2016 report there has been a 42.5% rise in the report of rape allegations to the police and a 22.6% decline in the number of rape cases by charged by the CPS.
HMCPSI have been criticised for their lack of transparency in how the report was undertaken and their inspection process (3). Women’s groups here quoted complained as the HMCPSI report was commissioned and undertaken about the failure to consult rape survivors and victim groups; the lack of consultation and transparency on their method for examining case files; and some concerns about partiality.(4)
Women’s groups therefore had low confidence in the HMCPSI process and are not totally surprised to find that the final report lays the blame with the police, and with a lack of resourcing as well as the impacts of digital evidence. These may be important elements but they ignore glaring issues with the CPS itself.
End Violence Against Women Coalition Co-Director Sarah Green continued:
“We have serious concerns as to how the HMCPSI might for example identify cultural and systemic issues when it comes to charging, when they have not engaged with external stakeholders.
This report is particularly galling when the HMCPSI have historically relied on the CPS’ own internal performance measures with full knowledge that these are not fit for purpose. The choice to actively commend CPS decision making in the final report is too much; it is an insult to the many survivors of rape who have been so failed.
Our Judicial Review of CPS (5) failure in the prosecution of rape is clearly needed now more than ever as it may be the only way to get to the bottom of what is actually going on.”
Centre for Women’s Justice Director Harriet Wistrich says:
“We share EVAW’s concerns about the lack of independence of this review and are most concerned that in spite of the overwhelming evidence of a dramatic decline in the prosecution of rape, there is insufficient inquiry into the cause of it. We are inundated with examples of compelling cases of rape prosecutions being dropped by the CPS or by the police who say there is no point in referring consent cases to the CPS any more. Altogether a wasted opportunity to shine a light on this crisis.”
Katie Russell, the national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales says:
“Rape Crisis England & Wales is extremely disappointed with this report.
This part of the Government’s rape review was intended to explore why the criminal justice system is currently failing rape victims and survivors. But the lack of independence in the way it has been conducted has undermined this purpose.
While there are undoubtedly a number of complex factors at play, with criminal justice outcomes for rape victims and survivors at unacceptably low levels, it is self-evident that CPS practice needs urgent reform.
The CPS must demonstrate some accountability if progress is to be made towards achieving justice for victims and survivors. Their apparent lack of interest in taking the opportunity to meaningfully address this problem is astonishing.”
Notes for Editors:
- The End Violence Against Women Coalition, Centre for Women’s Justice and Rape Crisis England & Wales, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women’s Aid Federation England
- The HMCPSI has been widely criticised by the women’s organisations in the lead up to the report after it was revealed that they measure performance using the CPS’s own secret internal targets for the conviction rates. Targets which the CPS themselves have acknowledged were not appropriate and may have created an incentive for prosecutors, deterring them from charging less straightforward cases. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50406598