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Rape Case ‘Policy Change’ Challenge

(Posted on 12/06/19)


A legal challenge, funded through the CrowdJustice website, is to be brought against the Crown Prosecution Service after it has allegedly “covertly changed its policy and practice in relation to decision-making on rape cases”, leading to a dramatic collapse in the number of rape cases going to court.

While the number of reported rapes nearly tripled between 2014 and 2018, the number of cases charged and sent to court fell by 44%, and fewer than 4% of women reporting attacks can now expect their complaint to reach trial, according to the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).

A “letter before action” to the CPS cites 21 cases where charges have not been brought despite apparently compelling evidence. 

“We have strong evidence to show that CPS leaders have quietly changed their approach to decision-making in rape cases, switching from building cases based on their merits back to second-guessing jury prejudices,” said EVAW’s Sarah Green. “This is extremely serious and is having a detrimental impact on women’s access to justice.

“We are witnessing a collapse in justice after rape at a time when increasing numbers of women are speaking out and reporting these crimes. We’re hearing from women who’ve been raped and they are telling us about cases being dropped for reasons that are hard to understand.”

“We are arguing that the CPS’s systemic failure to prosecute rape is a human rights failure and has a discriminatory impact on women, who are the large majority of rape victims,” added Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, representing EVAW. “Failures by the CPS to consult on changes to policy and [disregarding] its own guidance developed to tackle the under-prosecution of rape are, we argue, unlawful.”

Claire Waxman, independent victims’ commissioner for London, called for an urgent response: “If the CPS have changed their policy without consultation and it is impacting victims’ access to justice, then this must be remedied immediately.”

A CPS spokesperson responded: “Sexual offences are some of the most complex cases we prosecute and we train our prosecutors to understand victim vulnerabilities and the impact of rape, as well as consent, myths and stereotypes. Decisions to prosecute are based on whether our legal tests are met – no other reason – and we always seek to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so.

“Victims have the right to ask for a review of their case by another prosecutor, independent of the original decision-maker, and this is another way we can make sure we are fair and transparent in what we do.”

As well as denying victims justice and reassurance and leaving rapists free to reoffend, the failure to prosecute demonstrably guilty individuals risks potential suspects of registered bad character being missed in future criminal investigations and thereby inscreases the likelihood of wrongful conviction and miscarriage of justice.