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Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

10. What recent progress has been made in monitoring the Crown Prosecution Service’s performance in relation to prosecutions for rape. (280581)

The Crown Prosecution Service has recently started a series of visits to police force and CPS areas. The visits are being undertaken by a joint team with the police to assist the implementation of recent guidance, assess current performance area by area and provide guidance on improving performance and sharing good practice.

I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. In February, I received a reply from a Justice Minister claiming that 59 per cent. of cases prosecuted as rape result in a conviction for rape or another offence. However, my hon. and learned Friend knows that that hides massive differences between police areas. In Dorset, fewer than one in 60 women secured a conviction for an attack when they reported rape, but in Cleveland, the area that my hon. and learned Friend represents, almost one in every five rapes reported to the police results in a conviction. Why does that difference exist, and what can we do to ensure that every area of the country meets and exceeds the standards that Cleveland has achieved, so that women who are raped can get justice?

I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s diligent work on rape, about which she shares a powerful interest with me. There are two sorts of figures. She cited the figure of around 59 per cent., which relates to those going from charge to conviction, once there has been a charge. The much lower figures, especially those that the Fawcett Society puts forward, are from complaint to charge; there is a much higher drop-out rate before cases get to court. There are disparities between Cleveland and other areas. I am proud of Cleveland, though even Sean Price, the chief constable—pleased though he is to top the poll, as it were, for conviction rates for rape—feels that he has further to go before he is performing adequately. None the less, he is to be complimented.

My hon. Friend is right that the figures suggest that less attention is paid to that highly important offence in some areas. Of course, the figures have flaws because complaints and outcomes are likely to be separated by years, so they will not cover the same cases. However, one cannot disguise the fact that the figures are inevitably indicative of a difference in prioritising. The rape support group—the Home Office component of the partnership team, which also comprises the CPS—will talk to police forces specifically about that. To put it bluntly and crudely, the idea is to find out what is working well in one police area, take it to another where they are not doing so well and persuade them that they must implement it to attain much better results. However, having said that—

Order. That is a very long answer. I hope that the Solicitor-General will bear it in mind that several other hon. Members wish to question her.

May I support the campaign of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on this serious offence? In addition to disparities in various police regions in the United Kingdom, are not conviction rates in the UK significantly lower than those of many of our European counterparts? Does the Solicitor-General know the reason for that? Has any thorough research been conducted to ascertain what lessons we can learn from Europe to try to improve conviction rates in this country?

I am thankful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will be, too. It is important to do the work that he mentions. The differences that exist are evidence that there is nothing magic about getting a better conviction rate for rape. If one police force can do it and another cannot, the way forward is accessible. There are huge definitional differences between us and some European countries. The numbers of people who are prosecuted vary, too. I will not get this precisely right, but I point out that in Italy, essentially only stranger rape is prosecuted. It is relatively straightforward to get a conviction for that, whereas the difficulty here is rape that happens within a relationship, in which consent is the issue. That is much more difficult.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on this subject. I welcome the planned visits and very much hope that an early visit will be made to the CPS in Derbyshire, where one of my constituents suffered the appalling fate of having a case that had got to court dropped, apparently because of failures by the local CPS to communicate effectively with social services about key papers, with the entire range of cases against her assailant subsequently dismissed. Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that that visit is given particular attention?

I am thankful for my hon. Friend’s concern and support on this topic. I do not know about that case in Derbyshire, which sounds as if it may be a cause for concern. If he tells me about it, I will look into it and draw it to the attention of the CPS, so that it can investigate further and, if there is a need, accelerate the time ofits visit.