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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Time to reverse the shameful treatment of rape victims

Recent revelations as to how the Crown Prosecution Service has handled rape allegations are both shocking and shameful. As the Guardian reports, CPS prosecutors were urged in training sessions in 2017 to put a “touch on the tiller” and take a more risk-averse approach to prosecuting rape by weeding “the weak cases out of the system”. The CPS has consistently denied any change in approach.

Despite this denial, reports of rape have increased by almost a third in the four years to March 2020. However, the number of rape prosecutions has more than halved, falling 60% to the lowest figure on record, in the same time period. The paper says that in November 2019, the CPS admitted it had a “level of ambition” to reach a 60% conviction rate in rape cases in 2016. They told the Law Society Gazette, which first reported the story, that they dropped the policy two years later, as it may give prosecutors a “perverse incentive” to prosecute fewer, less complicated, cases. Rape prosecutions have dropped every year since 2016-17 and are now at an annual record low.

Now, a legal challenge to how the crime is charged and prosecuted begins in the court of appeal on Tuesday, amid growing concerns about the treatment of serious sexual crimes in England and Wales:

Sarah Green, the director for End Violence Against Women (EVAW), said: “It has been a very long road to the courtroom this week. In 2018 alarm bells were already ringing when the CPS’s own data showed an enormous drop in the charging rate for rape.

“Although we are a tiny charity, we decided we needed to take the risk and look at bringing the CPS to court for what amounts to an unlawful change in their rape prosecution policy and practice which was never consulted on, has happened covertly, and has had terrible consequences which very disproportionately affect women and arguably make all of us less safe,” Green added.

This is the third court hearing, after the case was originally dismissed by the high court in March 2020 and later overturned at an appeal hearing in July 2020.

The case has been crowdfunded with small donations from survivors and supporters and has raised more than £100,000 to date. The CPS has rejected the arguments presented and sought to cover its full legal costs. A judge has capped costs at £75,000.

Harriet Wistrich, the director of the CWJ, said: “There’s huge concern about this sudden collapse in prosecutions and although there are a number of different factors, the key factor we say is the training. They wanted to change the direction and bring about a change of approach even if it was, ‘a touch on the tiller’.

“The problem is, even if it’s just a very slight change, when you go from the top down it has a massive butterfly effect by the time it hits the bottom. The director of public prosecutions [DPP] seeks to blame the police but in fact the police say they are tearing their hair out and building strong cases that still get dropped.”

Senior police officers have also expressed frustration at how the CPS now charges cases. In July last year they said it was “becoming harder to achieve the standard of evidence required to charge a suspect”.

There needs to be some accountability for the way that rape allegations have been treated by the CPS. Let's hope that the court of appeal can provide it.
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