Rape is being ‘decriminalised’, warned women’s groups yesterday following a new report from the Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS) which reveals decisions to prosecute rape are at a record low. This is despite the fact that the number of rape allegations is the highest it’s ever been at 58,000.
There were 1,925 convictions in 2018/19, compared with 2,635 convictions in 2017/2018, according to data revealed by the CPS in its Violence Against Women and Girls Report 2018-2019. The report includes data on men and boys.
Home Office figures reported earlier this year in the Guardian found that only one in 65 rape allegations (1.5%) reported to police results in suspects being summonsed or charged, amounting to a total of 886 in 2018/19. Four years ago, one in seven (14%) led to a suspect being charged or summonsed – a total of 4,908 in 2015/16.
Speaking on the Today show on BBC Radio 4, Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said that the drop in convictions has occurred as a result of the CPS deciding whether or not to prosecute based on ‘second-guessing’ how juries might react to the victim or the alleged perpetrator. Wistrich argued that the focus on what a jury might subsequently decide, rather than an objective consideration of evidence, free from ‘the myths and stereotypes which plague rape and sexual offences cases’.
Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions, responded to Wistrich by denying any change in the approach from prosecutors at the CPS. ‘We operate on the basis that juries are objective, impartial and reasonable,’ he said. Hill commented that falling police referrals at least partly explained the drop in prosecutions. ‘I suspect that investigations by the police are taking longer. They have more to consider, more digital material to consider,’ he said.
A graph of the Home Office’s statistics published in the Guardian in July 2019 showed an increase in the percentage of rape cases that the CPS has not taken a decision on in 2018/19 compared with previous years. The figures indicate that the CPS is taking longer to make charging decisions. According to the CPS data published today, the average period of time it takes the police and the CPS to charge increased from 77.98 days in 2017/18 to 107.68 days in 2018/19.
‘There is more work being done by the CPS,’ said Hill. ‘The number of consultations, meetings per case has gone up quite substantially over the period.’
Wistrich, who is representing End Violence Against Women (EVAW) in legal action against the CPS, did not accept Hill’s explanations for the drop in the number of prosecutions. She believes that they do not adequately explain the ‘magnitude of statistical change that has happened over the last two years and is increasing’. ‘Since 2014 CPS decisions to prosecute have fallen at almost double the rate that police referrals to CPS have – 51% compared to 27%,’ EVAW has pointed out.
‘We, all of us playing our parts in the criminal justice system, need to come together now to discuss this and that is why we are absolutely committed to a cross-government review of serious sexual offences. I have personally asked the independent CPS inspectorate to come in and conduct that review, and we will all abide by the findings of that review,’ Hill said.
Andrea Simon, head of public affairs at the EVAW coalition, said: ‘We need to remember that behind these figures lie real lives, these numbers represent real women subjected to rape, a crime which does enormous harm, who are then further victimised by a system that does not take them seriously. These shocking and unjustifiable failings speak to a clear and concerted shift in how the CPS have decided to prosecute rape and this is why we have instructed our lawyers at CWJ to now issue judicial review proceedings.’
EVAW will be issuing judicial review proceedings in the High Court and serving it on the CPS early next week.