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Sun, 29 November 2020

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By Lord Garnier
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This Tory government is letting down victims of rape and domestic abuse on all fronts

This Tory government is letting down victims of rape and domestic abuse on all fronts

The backlog in crown courts is just shy of 50,000 cases and rising, writes Ellie Reeves MP. | PA Images

3 min read

We are seeing fewer people are being prosecuted and convicted for rape than at any other time since records began, even though the reports of rape are increasing.

In July of this year, statistics from the CPS showed that rape prosecutions in England and Wales are at their lowest level on record. This week, Victims Commissioner Vera Baird QC’s report on rape survivors experience of the criminal justice system told us that only one in seven rape survivors believe they will receive justice by reporting a rape. 

Today, we have also heard from the Chief Inspector of HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate in their latest report, which shows a stark deterioration in the quality of communication to rape victims from the CPS.

In the report, the Chief Inspector highlighted that only 19% of RASSO case letters are of the right quality, and 42% of letters from the CPS to victims are lacking in empathy, with no overall improvement in victim communication since 2018. 

When supporting victims of rape and domestic abuse, the way the CPS communicates with victims plays a pivotal role in maintaining victim confidence in the criminal justice system.  All of these recent statistics and reports reveal the extent of the crisis within our justice system and how at every stage of their journey, victims of rape and domestic abuse are being let down by this government on all fronts.

What we have is a really worrying combination of ever-increasing court case backlogs and record low levels of rape prosecution. Since the lifting of the national lockdown in July, courts have slowly reopened but capacity has been vastly reduced by social distancing. The backlog in crown courts is just shy of 50,000 cases and rising.

Victims are left waiting in a form of purgatory whilst pursuing their rightful quest for justice

Meanwhile, we are seeing fewer people are being prosecuted and convicted for rape than at any other time since records began, even though the number of reports of rape is increasing. Police recorded 55,130 reported rapes in England and Wales during 2019-20, but there were only 2,012 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions. Any further delays in bringing cases to court will have a serious impact on the reliability of evidence — for defendants as well as victims.

A primary concern with such huge delays in court case backlogs is that as the time between alleged offence and court date lengthens (I’ve heard case dates being issued for two years’ time). This means victims are left waiting in a form of purgatory whilst pursuing their rightful quest for justice. With such a long wait between the crime taking place and a court date, there is a real risk that we might see victims and witnesses withdrawing evidence - they might be thinking, is it worth it? Should I just move on with my life without having to go through all of this?

We need more than just warm words and rhetoric from the government in tackling these issues.

The CPS’s RASSO 2025 report announced earlier this year is welcome, as is the recent update to prosecutors’ guidance for rape cases. However, we do need to see further swift action and lessons learned quickly to challenge this deterioration in rape prosecution levels.

No one in the criminal justice sector can afford to wait five more years for action.

 

Ellie Reeves is the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge and shadow attorney general.

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