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Watchdog to review rape charging decisions

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CPS, Crown Prosecution Service, report, violence against women and girls, 2018-19, Max Hill, DPP, reivew, rape charging decisions, quarterly reports, changeA frank conversation about the reasons for the fall in referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions is needed.

The most recent figures on prosecutions involving violence against women and girls (VAWG) were released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) earlier this month.

The report, ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Report 2018-2019′, covered a broad range of offences, including domestic abuse, rape, stalking and so-called honour-based abuse.

And figures for 2018-19 showed a 15.1 per cent fall in prosecutions and a 14.3 per cent drop in convictions for domestic abuse, rape, and sexual offences.

This reflects the 12.3 per cent fall in the number of investigations referred to the CPS from the police, as well as significant increases in the volume of digital data – which means some cases taking longer to charge.

And as the report showed a fall in the rate of rape-flagged charges, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, announced that the independent CPS watchdog – Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) – will hold a review of rape charging decisions to increase accountability and reassure victims of sexual offences.

The report also set out a range of actions being taken to continue to improve how the CPS works on these challenging cases, and to increase transparency, including:

HMCPSI will independently review rape charging decisions as part of a cross-government review into handling of cases;

VAWG statistics, including rape charges, will be published more regularly;

A mandatory training programme for specialist rape prosecutors;

A project to understand changing sexual behaviours and associated myths and stereotypes; and

New pre-trial therapy guidance.

In addition, later this year, the CPS will move from annual to quarterly publication of VAWG data to better track changes in charging rates.

One notable change in this year’s rape data has been the increase in the number of administratively finalised cases – cases where the police do not respond to CPS requests for additional evidence or reasonable lines of enquiry within three months. This has increased from 21.7 per cent to 28.6 per cent.

Plans to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system are also in place to make sure people affected by sexual violence have the confidence to report it.

And following extensive consultation with those involved, interim guidance on pre-trial therapy will be published shortly, with a more comprehensive package expected later in the year.

The CPS is also undertaking a new project on the myths and stereotyping surrounding sexual violence, and about acquaintance rape and digital dating in the context of changing sexual behaviours to help inform prosecutors in their decision-making.

The CPS has also completed further work on standing up for complainants’ privacy in courts.

This includes refreshed legal guidance and mandatory training on Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 which restricts evidence or questions about previous sexual history by or on behalf of the accused, subject to exceptions and with the leave of the court.

The training is also available to members of the external Bar.

Also this year stalking prosecutions increased from 1,616 to 2,209 – an increase of 36.7 per cent and the highest volume ever recorded.

And the CPS secured the UK’s first conviction for female genital mutilation (FGM) and introduced a ‘cross-system best practice framework’ for domestic abuse.

Hill said: “Rape is an awful, sickening offence and I completely understand why the fall in charging rates is so concerning.

“Partners across the criminal justice system are coming together to look at how these cases are handled and the CPS is playing its part by opening up our charging decisions to further scrutiny.

“I have every confidence in the work of our dedicated prosecutors but it is important that the public has confidence too.

“I intend to implement any changes which are recommended if they improve our processes and enable the criminal justice system to deliver swifter, more effective justice.

“Like any crime, I want every victim of sexual violence to trust that when they come forward and report an offence, it will be fully investigated and, whenever the evidence supports, charged and fairly prosecuted,” Hill continued.

“Bringing the right cases to court is in the interests of complainants, suspects and the wider public.  A frank and full conversation about the reasons for the fall in referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions is needed.

“For this we need partners from the across the criminal justice system, government and stakeholder groups to come together.”

To read the full report, click here.

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