Rape prosecution plan lacks ambition, say MPson April 11, 2022 at 11:43 pm

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MPs say there is little belief the government will reverse the “shocking” collapse in prosecutions.

Women protesting against violence at the Million Women Rise march in London

Image source, Getty Images

Stronger reforms to England and Wales’ criminal justice system are needed to tackle the “shocking” collapse in rape prosecutions, a report by MPs says.

Reported rapes are at an all-time high, while prosecutions fell by 70% in the past four years, MPs said.

A government review said the justice system should return to 2016 prosecution levels by 2024.

The MPs said this would still be a poor performance and there was little confidence it would be achieved.

The home affairs select committee said the government should go “much further, much faster” in changing how rape and sexual offences were handled by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.

It said the reforms needed to focus on the experience of victims seeking justice, because lengthy delays in reaching court, “harmful” evidence-gathering processes and poor provision of support were turning people away.

Between July and September last year, 63% of adult rape investigations were closed because the victim no longer wished to continue.

Dame Diana Johnson, the Labour chair of the committee, said the collapse in prosecutions was “truly shocking and completely unacceptable” and while there was significant effort being put in to reverse the decline, there was much further to go.

“From now on the focus must be on supporting the victims. Reporting an incident should be the beginning of getting justice but instead has become a source of further pain. The fact that even now nearly two thirds of cases collapse because a victim may not be able to bear going forward is unimaginable,” she said.

Among the recommendations in the MPs’ report were that:

  • The government should make it clear that every police force should have a specialist rape investigation team, as at least 40% of forces in England and Wales currently do not
  • Ministers should consider creating a dedicated commissioner to represent the interests of victims of sexual violence, or expanding the role of an existing commissioner
  • More victims should be given independent legal advocates to support them with requests for personal data, applications to refer to their sexual history in court or applications to access records of their counselling or therapy sessions
  • There should be greater support for long-term counselling and therapy
  • Police must be given the funding to get the equipment and skills to ensure rape victims do not have their phones removed for evidence-gathering for more than 24 hours

The committee said it was “deeply concerned” by reports victims were avoiding accessing mental health support because they feared records of their therapy sessions could be disclosed to the defence and used to undermine their case.

It said new guidance on pre-trial therapy should be published as soon as possible.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it recognised many victims felt let down by the criminal justice process.

“It is paramount victims know they can access therapy at any time and that doing so is entirely their decision,” a spokesman said.

New “fundamental principles” on pre-trial therapy published by the CPS say police must request specific information when requesting therapy notes for an investigation, not make “unfocused requests”.

And they say therapy notes must only be disclosed to the defence when they might be considered to undermine the prosecution case or help the defence.

A government spokesman said it was recruiting more sexual violence advisers, rolling out the use of pre-recorded evidence faster and boosting funding for victim support by £440m over the next three years.

It said the most recent data showed a “modest” increase in the number of charges for rape and “our reforms will drive this progress further”.

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