Rape is “being effectively decriminalised,” campaigners claim, as new official figures show rates of prosecutions, charges and convictions are at a ten-year record low.
The Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) released a report on Thursday (12 September) revealing there were 1,925 rape convictions in 2018/19, a 26 per cent drop on the previous year (2,635).
This comes despite the number of rape allegations recorded by police almost tripling in the last five years, reaching 56,698 in September 2018, according to Ministry of Justice figures.
The report also shows the number of rape prosecutions this year fell by 32 per cent to 3,034. The number of charges declined by 37 per cent, from 2,822 to 1,758.
The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition believes this downward trend is a consequence of the CPS unofficially changing its policy towards rape cases.
But the CPS denies this, and has announced their independent watchdog will carry out a review of its decision-making on rape charges.
“Rape is an awful, sickening offence and I completely understand why the fall in charging rates is so concerning,” said Max Hill QC, director of public prosecutions.
“Partners across the criminal justice system are coming together to look at how these cases are handled and the CPS is playing its part by opening up our charging decisions to further scrutiny.”
The CPS also highlighted there has been a drop in the number of rape investigations referred to them by police, and an increase in the volume of digital data means cases are taking longer to charge.
‘Rape Is Being Effectively Decriminalised’
Image Credit: Claudia / Unsplash.
In June this year, EVAW and Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) launched legal proceedings against the CPS, accusing it of failing to protect their human rights regarding how it decides whether to pursue rape cases or not.
They believe the CPS has covertly switched to a policy of deciding which cases to pursue by second-guessing jury prejudices, rather than building cases based on their “merits”.
Reacting to today’s report, EVAW’s Andrea Simon said: “The failure to prosecute rape sends a clear message not only about disregarding justice for survivors, but also signals to rapists that they are safe to continue offending, knowing the likelihood they will be held to account is miniscule.
“Is this the type of society we want to live in? Is this deemed acceptable by our leaders?”
“Making excuses about digital disclosure, when we know that scrutiny of a complainants digital (and non-digital) life are being conducted routinely and out of all proportion in a fashion which we say scrutinises complainant credibility in a wholly exceptional way, is frankly shameful.”
But, speaking to the Today programme, Mr Hill insisted there had been no change in the approach taken by the CPS.
“I am not going to point the finger in any particular direction,” he said. “We – all of us working in the criminal justice system – need to come together now to discuss this.”
What About Equality and Human Rights Law?
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Under the Equality Act 2010, public sector bodies such as the police and the CPS have a “public sector duty” to eliminate discrimination, harassment and other proscribed conduct towards people on the basis of “protected characteristics” – including age and gender.
The CPS used to operate on a “merits-based approach”, Rachel Krys, co-director of EVAW told RightsInfo in June, and built cases based on their own strengths.
She said: “Prosecutors were encouraged to ignore rape myths and commonly held prejudices about rape victims and concentrate instead on the evidence in the case.
“In practice, this meant cases like those against the grooming gang in Rotherham made it to trial because prosecutors worried less about how they thought the jury might react to the young victims and instead concentrated on building a case against their abusers.”
“Article 3 places a positive obligation on state authorities to conduct an effective investigation into acts of third parties of serious offences such as rape,” she said.
She highlighted how this resulted in a 2014 High Court ruling, in which police were found to have breached the Convention of Human Rights for failing to effectively investigate allegations made against serial rapist John Worboys.
Rape prosecutions disproportionately affect women and people with disabilities, Ms Krys said, and so the impact of the CPS’ alleged policy was in breach of Article 14.