The CPS, Low Prosecution Rates and Moving Towards Justice

Statistics released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) yesterday (July 30th, 2020) show the lowest number of rape prosecutions in Wales and England on record.

The issues
Although between 2019-2020 there was a noted increase in the number of rapes reported to the police (more than 55,000), there were just 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions.[1]
If we look at Wales’ figures in isolation we see a similar pattern, with 153 prosecutions and only 98 convictions of rape during 2019-2020.

If we compare these statistics around the number of cases making it to prosecution and conviction stages to those in recent years, we can see a concerningly steep decline of over a half. Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird who has previously stated that rape was “becoming decriminalised”[2] in the UK, said that “1,5000 fewer rapists are being convicted than three years ago”[3] and EVAW wrote that currently “survivors face a 1 in 70 chance of their case being charged”[4].

The CPS also made headlines for their treatment of rape survivors earlier this month. Following a sustained campaign and legal threat from two survivors, they have decided to remove their policy of “digital strip searches”[5] of rape complainants. The controversial policy which required survivors to divulge private information including their mobile phone data, had been brought in less than a year ago and sparked outrage among the women’s sector, privacy and human rights groups.

The trauma that can be felt by rape survivors when their assaults are not responded to in a decent and compassionate way by the authorities can be extremely far-reaching and long-lasting. One survivor, Bonny Turner, waved her right to anonymity and is appealing against the decision to drop her case due to insufficient evidence. You can read her experience here (*trigger warning-details of rape)

Why has this happened?
For the past three years, women’s rights groups EVAW, their members and Center for Women’s Justice have been campaigning against the noticeably dropping rates in rape charges.
In 2018, they worked alongside the Guardian, publishing a series of articles which exposed the CPS systems failings. These articles contained a number of concerning findings, for instance Freedom of Information (FOI)  figures revealing that men age 18-24 were “less likely to be found guilty of rape than older men”[6] (32% compared to 46%) meaning less than a third of prosecutions brought against young men were resulting in convictions.

EVAW commenced a Judicial Review of the CPS for their failure to prosecute rape in October 2019. At their hearing in the High Court in March 2020 they were not granted permission to proceed to a full hearing, mainly on the grounds that “it was not the role of the Judicial Review to determine disputed facts.”[7] However in what is being deemed an historic appeal, yesterday the High Court decision not to grant the  judicial review of the CPS’ rape charging policy and practice was overturned. The Court has granted permission and directed that the full judicial review be heard as soon as possible.

The decision has delighted EVAW and the Centre of Women’s Justice. Centre of Women’s Justice Director Harriet Wistrich said that in this overturn the Court “have accepted it is arguable that the CPS did change their policy… ‘and their actions ultimately led to a fall in rape prosecutions… ‘This may amount to systemic illegality.”[8]

Moving Forward.
Granting the judicial review is a positive step forward but there are still great concerns around the appalling statistics released yesterday and an urgency for the CPS to do better by survivors now.

Welsh Women’s Aid CEO Sara Kirkpatrick said: “This latest report highlights the systemic failures in the current CPS systems to protect and support survivors. Choosing to report rape can be an incredibly difficult and traumatic decision- survivors need to have confidence in a trustworthy, transparent system when they do so. There needs to be more accountability, for the perpetrators of abuse and for those responsible for the failures that caused this shockingly low conviction rate”

Alongside the latest statistics, the CPS released the Rape and serious sexual offences strategy (RASSO)[10], a five-year strategy which begins with “a commitment to ensure the right person is prosecuted for the rights offence” and promises “significant steps” every year towards change. Broadly, Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes the content in the strategy as it largely takes on board the  recommendations raised by the sector but, as the latest statistics show, it is important that there is radical, systemic change in practice to achieve the justice that all survivors deserve.