Government must take swift action to improve conviction rates in rape cases
Rape is a highly complex crime, and can be difficult to prove, but in 2020 prosecution and conviction rates should not be at an all-time low, writes Baroness Gale. | PA Images
The number of people prosecuted and convicted for rape has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 2009. We now have a situation where many victims of rape who go through the ordeal of a court case, are not getting justice.
Today I shall be asking the Minister in the Lords what steps the Government intends on taking to increase the number of prosecutions and convictions in rape cases.
My reason for asking this question is because I was shocked to see the latest report of the number of people prosecuted and convicted for rape has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 2009.
According to police records there were 55,130 cases of rape but only 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions in England and Wales in 2019-20.
On seeing these figures Sarah Green, the director of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition said, “Today’s figures show starkly that we are right to say rape has been effectively decriminalised. What else can you call a 1 in 70 chance of prosecution?
The Guardian reported, “Downing Street is planning a controversial intervention to reverse the record decline in rape prosecutions by imposing targets on police and prosecutors.
In a highly unusual move, the Prime Minister’s crime and justice taskforce is planning to set targets for police to make more ‘high-quality’ referrals of rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service and for the CPS to prosecute and bring more rape cases to trial”.
According to news reports Downing Street denied there are such plans. When asked would there be such targets for police and the CPS, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said, “The short answer to that is no. Numerical targets would undermine prosecutorial impartiality where cases are individual by nature and require a specific set of considerations in each case”.
Katie Russell, the national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the move was a clear acknowledgment that the criminal justice system was failing on rape, and felt that targets can be a blunt tool for dealing with a systemic problem, and could not on their own successfully achieve the real cultural shift that is needed for victims and survivors to have a reasonable expectation of both criminal and social justice in future.
For me the worrying thing about this matter is that we now have a situation where victims of rape have been encouraged to report to the police, with many having done so, but then, after going through the ordeal of a court case, not getting the justice they were expecting.
Rape is a highly complex crime, and can be difficult to prove, but in 2020 prosecution and conviction rates should not be at an all-time low, with only 1,439 convictions in England and Wales in 2019-20.
What I would like to see is the Government taking swift action in order to improve conviction rates, working with charitable organisations which support women and girls who have been raped, as they have so much expertise and can give valuable advice.
Other measures should include training, education and awareness of public bodies involved.
The Prime Minister’s Official spokesman said in response to the low conviction rate, "We are determined to restore faith in the justice system and give victims of rape the confidence that everything will be done to bring offenders to justice.
"We will continue to work with the police to look at ways to improve their role in the investigation and prosecution of rape and ensure that their guidance and best practice is implemented in every police force area."
I do hope they will do just this.
I look forward to hearing a positive response on the action the government is planning to the serious questions raised by the low conviction rate.
Baroness Gale is a Labour member of the House of Lords.