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Labour Accuses Government Of Ignoring Victims After Damning Rape Review

Shadow minister for domestic violence Jess Phillips says the report into rape prosecutions lacks any support for victims (Alamy)

5 min read

The government’s response to a damning review into falling rape convictions has been criticised as “very small fry and piecemeal” by Labour.

Shadow minister for domestic violence Jess Phillips says the report lacks any support for victims and contains little planned action, calling it a “triumph of hope over experience”.

The landmark root-and-branch examination of how the entire justice system deals with serious sexual crime concluded the current conviction situation is “totally unacceptable”, and the government said it was “extremely sorry that the system has reached this point”.

But Phillips criticised the response as inadequate and lacking in concrete action.

"Anyone can go out and say ‘oh you know that it needs to be better’, you actually have to do something about it," she told BBC Radio 4. 

“What I say to my children when they say sorry is that sorry is just a word, being sorry is changing your actions, and there is so little action in this rape review – which didn't even engage with victims throughout the process of two years.

“I speak to [victims] every day so I don't know how the government could fail to engage quite so badly.

“I'm afraid to say that almost every single thing that the government stated is going to do in the review is very small fry and piecemeal.”

Phillips also believed plans to reform rape inquiries were not happening fast enough, including the speed of the process where investigators return mobile devices to victims after the relevant data has been downloaded. 

“This is a government that has just shifted mountains in a pandemic and it's going to take them two and a half years to say that rape victims shouldn't have to have their personal lives handed over for any extensive period of time?”," she said. 

Phillips felt rape victims are still treated as “pariahs”, and said what is “glaringly missing” in the report is support for them, a stance backed by her colleague, the former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, who said a government apology was not enough.

“Need action. Previous sex history of rape victim shouldn’t be dragged through trial,” Harman tweeted.

“Government referral to Law Commission is long grass.  I’ll press for vote on my new clauses in Police Bill to sort it.”

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, dismissed the review as "a pretty underwhelming document” and should have been "10 times stronger".

She told PA: "It is a good thing that there has been an apology, but it doesn't really help people whose cases have been abandoned.

"Ministers have now accepted, the criminal justice system has been totally mishandling rape.

"If you make a public apology like this and don't put it right, where on earth does that leave your future in that role?"

The review comes against the backdrop of data for the year 2019/20, which showed just 1,439 people were convicted of rape or lesser offences, down 25% from 1,925 the previous year – a record low. While there are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, only 1.6% of all reported cases result in a charge.

In response to its findings the justice secretary Robert Buckland, home secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis QC put out a joint statement, admitting not enough was being done to support victims of sexual crime. 

"These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed," the statement read.

"Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn't just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.

"Our mission, set out in this publication, is to understand why we are letting down rape victims, and to right this wrong."

This morning the policing minister Kit Malthouse also condemned the report's findings. 

"It's obviously a shocker. As we have said in the reports, and on the media and elsewhere, it's a source of deep regret and shame that the numbers have dropped so significantly over the last few years," he told Sky News. 

"While I understand groups are naturally impatient, and we're very sorry for what's happened over the last few years, they are naturally impatient for change.”

Last night justice secretary Robert Buckland acknowledged government cuts to the legal system were a factor in plunging rape conviction rates.

"Like all parts of public service big choices were made in the last decade, because of the position that we all faced economically and that's, I think, self-evidently the case," he told the BBC.

Asked about this Malthouse said the reasons were "more complex" than cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service.  

"In truth, the biggest drop we saw in cases coming to court arose from 2016, and obviously that was partway through a period of financial hardship in the country, when we were trying to cut our cloth accordingly," he told BBC Radio 4. 

"The reasons for that fall are more complex I think necessarily than just budget cuts.

"Has the CPS been under strain generally? Yes. Has the whole public service been under strain? Of course it is."

Amelia Handy, policy lead for Rape Crisis England and Wales, accused the government of a "missed opportunity" with the review. 

"Overall, while there are individual elements of the Government's report that are encouraging, it's hard to identify any big commitments that will radically and swiftly improve the experience of the justice system for victims and survivors," she said. 

Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for rape, said: "Too few victims are getting justice.

"The end-to-end rape review will assist in work that is already well under way to improve the police service's response to this awful crime.

"It highlights several issues across the whole of the justice system, many of which we are already addressing, and we will act on all its recommendations.

"Anything that can improve the service offered to survivors will be implemented."

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