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Rape Cases

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

10. What recent discussions she has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of rape. (321514)

I have frequent discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions about the prosecution of rape cases. He is at the start of a national programme of visits across the entire service, a primary focus of which will be discussing with front-line staff cases involving violence against women and rape. The notion now is that we know what good practice is, but it needs to be spread consistently across the country.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that excellent response. In January, I addressed an excellent south Wales CPS seminar on the investigation and prosecution of rape, and saw first hand the improvement in the way in which the criminal justice system responds to rape and that the number of prosecutions is increasing. However, how are we going to support CPS staff when they are faced with defence lawyers in court who claim that a woman’s behaviour—the amount of alcohol she has consumed, how she dresses and whether she was flirtatious—was an invitation to rape? After all, we do not say that leaving a window open is an invitation to burglary. How can a woman be responsible for a man’s action purely because of how she dresses and so on? I would welcome my hon. and learned Friend’s comments on that.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. May I tell her how much positive feedback there was from the CPS on her address earlier this year?

The CPS now takes very seriously the way in which myths and stereotypes can affect its own decision making—it tries to train that out—and how they can be highly relevant in court. Whether the CPS or barristers are doing the advocacy, the CPS makes a point of ensuring that the use of those myths and stereotypes is challenged. Judges—obviously totally independently of the Government or the CPS—now have comprehensive training from the Judicial Studies Board, which includes discussion of how to deal with the kind of assumptions that juries can make or be persuaded to make. There are some new directions in the new bench book, in which the judges are exploring what they can properly say to juries to ensure that a balanced approach is taken, so that the evidence is evaluated in a fair and informed way without that kind of prejudice taking a role.

Order. I just make the point that there are nine questions in this section, and I would like to get through as many of them as possible, so we need to keep it tight.

How prevalent is the practice of plea bargaining across the United Kingdom in relation to rape or serious sexual attacks?

I would have to write to the hon. Gentleman with precise figures, but I am sure that sometimes plea negotiations take place. Sometimes a complainant is not very keen to carry on with a prosecution, and some lesser verdict might none the less put the man on the sex offenders register and fire a shot across his bows, as it were. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants detailed figures, I will write to him with them.