Responding to Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Report released today by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), APCC Victims Lead, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:
“Today’s figures are a huge cause for concern. The number of rape and sexual offence complaints to the police have increased substantially yet there is a massive drop in CPS prosecutions.
“In particular, the reduction in rape referrals from the police and a 23.1 per cent fall in the number of suspects charged, highlights that, despite progress by the Police and the CPS in recent years, there are significant shortcomings in the system – and vulnerable women and girls are still being let down.
“Equally as concerning, is the 72 per cent increase this year in the number of rape referrals from the police which are ‘administratively finalised’ by the CPS. This means these cases are dropped because the CPS refuses to charge without more information. This has to be read alongside this week’s news that the CPS often require access to tracts of intimate personal and confidential material about complainants and won’t charge unless it is supplied, even if the Police are satisfied that it contains nothing relevant to the defence or prosecution.
“The APCC raised concerns of the current disclosure requirements earlier this year with the Justice Select Committee. Complainants in these types of sexual offence cases are routinely subject to a level of scrutiny far in excess of that carried out, by the law enforcement agencies, investigating other offences. We know, for example, that when it comes to digital footprints, there is a significant risk in sexual offence cases that we open a back door for material aimed at discrediting the victim’s character through raising stereotypes about her lifestyle or character.
“We have urged the Government to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education in schools, to help address the issue of consent in the future, but there is more that can be done in the court system itself. This includes ensuring that every complainant has access to an independent sexual violence adviser and that judicial directions to combat myths about rape are given at the beginning and not the end of proceedings. These steps can make a difference. There is no excuse for the CPS to arbitrarily decide not to pursue crimes which may have seriously injured people in order to get their conviction figures up.
“Whilst we recognise, and welcome, the significant work being carried out as part of the joint CPS and police National Disclosure Improvement Plan, alongside improved training and guidance for prosecutors, these figures are another wake-up call that we need to do more to protect the rights of victims of sexual offences through the judicial process.”