The collapse of conviction rates for rape have led to a ‘crisis in public trust’, the Director of Public Prosecutions admitted yesterday. The Crown Prosecution Service has released a progress update on its five-year plan to reverse falling numbers of rape prosecutions, setting out the actions it has taken over the past 18 months.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme on Radio 4, Max Hill responded to recent figures that show of over 63,000 reported offences, only 1.3% have led to a suspect being charged. He said: ‘I am deeply frustrated that so many victims of violence, in particular women who suffer sexual violence feel a lack of confidence in the entire criminal justice system. That is what we are addressing for our part of it at the Crown Prosecution Service, and the report out today shows all the ways we have changed.’
Hill outlined action taken by the CPS in response to the collapse in prosecutions, including supporting victims to better understand disclosure requirements, implementing early advice with the Police and holding ‘progression clinics’ around complex cases.
Later on the same programme Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, took Hill to task for failing to take responsibility for a ‘the most catastrophic period in the CPS’s history’. Baird said the collapse in convictions was the CPS’s fault ‘almost completely’. ‘It isn’t a crisis of the criminal justice system as a whole. People are very unhappy with it, but it is essentially the CPS. Sixty three thousand complaints shows that rape complainants are still keen to get justice if they can, and haven’t lost their faith at all.’
Max Hill told the Today programme: ‘When the police decide, at the conclusion of investigation that they just can’t take it any further, we’ve set up scrutiny panels where we will say to a local police force, just bring us a selection of those cases that you say you can’t take any further and in many cases they will be right, there will be a fundamental difficulty with the evidence, we can’t go further, but in some we’ll be able to say have you thought about another angle of the evidence, let’s work on this and make this case work.’
Yesterday’s report comes after criticism that the CPS’s use of targets for the number of successful rape prosecutions has harmed victims’ access to justice. It has been alleged that more complex cases are not pursued in order to not to harm their target of a 60% conviction rate, ultimately leading to fewer prosecutions. Dame Baird criticised the use of targets, saying ‘an increased conviction rate of 60% is not much use if you are prosecuting very few cases. There are half the number of rapists off the streets than there were before Max Hill became DPP.’