Ministers have stated they really feel “deeply ashamed” of low conviction rates for rape circumstances in England and Wales.
Speaking to the BBC, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland apologised to victims and promised to “do lots higher”.
He additionally admitted price range cuts had been partly accountable for convictions falling to a report low in recent times.
The authorities says it’s now contemplating permitting victims to pre-record their proof to spare them the trauma of a courtroom trial.
Its evaluate additionally outlined plans to focus extra on the suspect’s behaviour – not the accuser’s, and be certain telephones taken away for evidence-gathering had been returned inside a day.
The evaluate was met with blended responses, with one rape charity saying it was a missed alternative and didn’t determine any large commitments that might radically and swiftly enhance rape victims’ expertise.
Labour stated the federal government had “failed victims of rape on every front” and its suggestions didn’t go far sufficient.
Speaking to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Buckland stated the report revealed “at all stages of the criminal justice process frankly a failure to deal with complaints made by many thousands of victims”.
“The first thing I think I need to say is, sorry – it’s not good enough.”
In a foreword to the evaluate, Mr Buckland, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis, stated: “The vast majority of victims do not see the crime against them charged and reach a court – one in two victims withdraw from rape investigations.
“These are developments of which we’re deeply ashamed,” they wrote. “Victims of rape are being failed.”
They went on to say that most rapes were carried out by people known to the victim, making investigations very personal and intrusive for the victim.
The trauma and their experience afterwards led many to disengage from the criminal justice process, they said.
“We will not be ready to just accept that rape is simply ‘too troublesome’ a criminal offense to prosecute. We can, and should, do higher,” they added.
‘It felt like it was my character being judged’
Katherine Araniello says she felt she wanted to take her own life after her rape case was dropped “virtually on the eve of the trial” by the Crown Prosecution Service.
She says she was given an explanation as to why her case was dropped but it was only “very imprecise”. “They did not name me in to iron out any points they could have at their finish.”
She says she felt like “it was my character” the Crown Prosecution Service were judging, not that of the alleged perpetrator, and her treatment by the CPS “actually stung, and it nonetheless stings to today”.
“That lack of acknowledgment from the CPS on the right way to deal with victims, extremely traumatised victims as nicely, has left me actually offended with the system,” she says.
“They have not realized their classes.”
Each year there are about 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape but fewer than 20% of them report the crime to the police, according to the report. And just 1.6% of rapes result in someone being charged.
Emily Hunt, an independent adviser to the review and herself a rape victim, said the low prosecution rate was not because people made false allegations.
She cited Home Office research showing up to 3% of rape allegations could be false, which meant 97% of them were not.
“The actuality is, in nearly all circumstances, if somebody says they have been raped, they haven’t made it up which makes the present scenario all of the extra surprising and unacceptable,” she said in the report.
What’s the new plan?
Plans set out in the report include:
- Introducing better data extraction technology to reduce the time that victims are without their phones – with an aim to have them returned by police within 24 hours. Currently this process can take months causing distress for victims left phoneless at a time when they most need support from friends and family
- Putting greater emphasis on understanding a suspect’s behaviour rather than focusing on a victim’s credibility
- Sparing victims the trauma of attending a courtroom trial by videoing their cross-examination earlier in the process and away from the courtroom. A pilot will be trialled in several courts, with a wider rollout considered. This measure is already used for children and vulnerable victims and witnesses
The report – commissioned in March 2019 – also said the volume of cases going to court should return to “at the very least 2016 ranges” and that regular “scorecards” would be published to monitor progress.
The Law Commission will also begin a review into “rape myths” and examine the use of a victims’ sexual history as evidence.
Why are rape prosecutions falling?
There are many possible factors behind the fall in prosecutions.
The report argued it was due to “a strained relationship” between different parts of the system, lack of support for the victims and “a rise in invasive requests for his or her private information”.
Asked in his BBC interview whether government cuts to the legal system were a factor, Robert Buckland replied: “Like all components of public service large decisions had been made within the final decade, as a result of of the place that all of us confronted economically and that is, I feel, self-evidently the case.”
He said the government was now “looking for to make the required funding” but also insisted “it is about extra than simply cash, it is about tradition.”
He argued that “for too lengthy” rape allegations have focused on the credibility of the victim rather than the evidence.
“If your home is burgled folks do not begin asking ‘why did you exit?’… all these assumptions I’m afraid are far too typically not utilized in the case of sexual offences,” he said.
In rape investigations, there has also been an increase in the amount of evidence to consider, often from phones and social media, making them more difficult for police, prosecutors and, potentially, victims.
Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird has stated some victims withdraw their complaints as a result of “they can’t face the unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into their privateness”.
There have also been suggestions a secret conviction rate target, set by the CPS, led to prosecutors dropping weaker or more challenging cases.
In November 2019, it was revealed the CPS had introduced a target in 2016 that 60% of rape cases should end in a conviction.
What’s the reaction been?
The victims’ commissioner welcomed the review’s proposals but said the government “has a mountain to climb whether it is to revive victims’ confidence”. Dame Vera said it was “disheartening” that the pre-recording of video evidence was not being introduced more widely.
Labour’s shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves said the government’s review had missed a “actual alternative” to improve the justice system, and accused the government of failing victims of rape “on each entrance by pushing the justice system to the brink of collapse by way of a decade of cuts to police, courts and the CPS”.
She said “piecemeal pilots” and “tinkering” would not be enough to fix the failures.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the current system was “in disarray”.
She said it was welcome the government had admitted women have been failed, but women’s groups felt “frustration and disappointment” over how long the measures in the review would take to be rolled out.
“Waiting an additional two years to see some of these suggestions come to fruition is simply too lengthy,” she added.
Amelia Handy, policy lead for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the review was “a missed alternative”.
“While there are particular person parts of the federal government’s report which can be encouraging, it is laborious to determine any large commitments that can radically and swiftly enhance the expertise of the justice system for victims and survivors,” she said.
She called for “impartial analysis into who does and would not report sexual offences to the police” and an urgent review into governance of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Sumanta Roy from Imkaan – an organisation tackling violence against women from ethnic minorities – called for ring-fenced funding “to deal with the historic under-funding of specialist impartial assist providers for black, minoritised girls”.