A coalition of women’s groups begin their challenge of the Crown Prosecution Service’s policy on decision-making in rape cases in the Court of Appeal this morning. They argue that the change lead to a ‘catastrophic collapse’ in the numbers of cases going to court and ‘the effective decriminalisation of rape’.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), represented by lawyers from the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), argue that senior CPS managers recklessly encouraged its prosecutors to ‘put a touch on the tiller’ of their charging decisions leading to the number of rape prosecutions decreasing by more than 50% between 2016 and 2018. The case draws on statistical analysis of CPS case outcomes over a decade, a ‘dossier’ of cases brought by women whose cases weren’t charged and a statement by a whistleblower. You can read background here.
The judicial review case was originally denied permission for a full hearing in March 2020 however that decision was overturned in July last year. According to campaigners, CPS management imposed a formal conviction rate target (or ‘level of ambition’) in 2016 without making this public. ‘The CPS themselves have admitted to the Law Society Gazette that they eventually dropped this policy two years later, as they realised retrospectively that it might give prosecutors a “perverse incentive” to prosecute fewer cases: only pursuing the ‘easiest’ cases, instead of investigating and prosecuting as many cases as possible,’ they argue.
The coalition also claim that training was delivered to sexual offences prosecutors in 2016 in which they were ‘discouraged categorically from referring to the “merits-based approach” in their charging decisions any more’ and ‘told that if they could identify and remove hundreds of “weak” cases from the system, it would improve the CPS’ conviction rates’. The CPS systematically removed all guidance for sexual offences prosecutors and the public relating to the ‘merits-based approach’ to charging decisions in 2017 and 2018, without consultation. ‘We believe the CPS must know that this change of guidance has had a negative impact – not least because – in a huge ‘u-turn’ revealed in October 2020 – they have now reinstated large extracts of the deleted guidance, word for word, on their website,’ the coalition says.
‘We have felt compelled to bring this case because it is very clear from the data, and from what women using the support services provided by our members are experiencing, that the bar has been raised on charging in rape cases – leaving women denied justice and dangerous offenders getting away with it,’ commented EVAW coalition director Sarah Green. Harriet Wistrich, CWJ director, said that the CPS was ‘virtually untouchable in law’.