A legal challenge to how rape is prosecuted has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal. The case, which was brought by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and the Centre for Women’s Justice, centred on changes made to CPS rape and sexual offences guidance in 2016.
The claimants alleged that the CPS had adopted a risk-averse ‘bookmaker’s approach’, which saw prosecutors decide whether to proceed based on how similar cases had fared in the past. This replaced the earlier ‘merits-based approach’, which involved objective assessment of the evidence. The campaigners maintained that the policy shift amounted to ‘systemic illegality’ and had precipitated a ‘shocking and unprecedented decline in both rate and volume of rape offences charged by the CPS’.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the application and ruled that the CPS had not changed its policy in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences. In a judgment published yesterday morning, it stated that changes made to the wording of the guidance – such as removal of the term “merits-based approach” – did not have any legal substance.
Andrea Simon, Director of EVAW, said the group was “deeply disappointed” at the outcome. ‘Thousands of rape victims continue to be let down by a broken criminal justice system. The Court of Appeal has given the CPS the benefit of the doubt on whether there was any change of approach to prosecution decision making, but we still lack alternative answers to why rape prosecutions have collapsed.’
Whilst reports of rape increased by nearly a third between 2016 and 2020, prosecutions more than halved. In the year 2019-20, police recorded 55,130 instances of rape. Just 2,102 of these cases were prosecuted, with 1,439 resulting in convictions. In its official response to the judgment, EVAW noted that of the 21 cases that it had asked the CPS to review, 15 were found to have been wrongly dropped. In one case – which involved a child victim – the evidence was so strong that, when it was reopened, the defendant plead guilty instead of contesting the allegations at trial.
The claimants, whose case was crowdfunded by thousands of small donations, will now be expected to pay £75,000 in legal costs. They have already requested permission to appeal.