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Rape Cases (Prosecution)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

Steps that we have already taken have led to reports of rape to the police more than doubling in the past 10 years, and there has been a 50 per cent. increase in the number of convictions. We have set up a cross-governmental rape monitoring group, and there is a body continually going around areas of criminal justice to spread best practice from one place through all the others. We have commissioned Baroness Stern specifically to review the response of public authorities to rape, and she will report in February.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that very useful reply; we are clearly moving in the right direction. However, I think she will agree that at the end of the day there are too few successful prosecutions in rape cases, which could be because too many women are withdrawing. What are the Crown Prosecution Service and various police forces doing to support women so that they do not withdraw? Is anyone explaining to such women that when they do withdraw, the person concerned—the rapist—could well go on to rape and rape again, as in the recent “black cab” case?

My hon. Friend hits on a very important point that needs to be made much more regularly, which is that much rape is serial offending. When women do not complain or when they withdraw a complaint, they are not just making a decision on their own behalf; in many cases they are potentially putting other people at risk. I do not want to put any more pressure on rape complainants than there already is, but there is a clear and emerging position that much rape is serial offending.

Almost all sexual offence complainants are now given an independent sexual violence adviser who stays with them as a befriender and supporter from complaint to at least the end of the criminal proceedings and who helps them into counselling after that. That is a great support that is helping more women to be ready to come forward and to sustain a complaint when they do.

Although it is true that the interests of complainants are very high in importance, so too are the interests of defendants. May I say that we must do nothing to dilute the principles that require a case to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and ensure that the burden rests on the Crown?

Wise words with which I totally agree. We are not seeking to do that and have not done anything that will. What is important is to support complainants so that the pressures of having to talk in front of a court about something extremely intimate, distressing and traumatising are not so overwhelming that people will not come forward and ensure that justice is done. That is what we have been trying to do.