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Stern Review (Interim Government Response)

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

Following discussion with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) the Minister with responsibility for crime reduction, I am pleased to make the following statement to the House.

In September last year, the Minister for Women and Equality and the Home Secretary jointly wrote to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, updating him on progress in relation to the Government’s consultation on violence against women and girls, and to inform him of our intention jointly to commission a review of the handling of rape complaints.

This review was commissioned within the context of the cross-Government strategy “Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls”, which was published on 25 November 2009. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses. The consultation for the strategy had found that women lack confidence in the criminal justice system (CJS), and that this was particularly in evidence in relation to rape.

There have been improvements in how the CJS responds to complaints of rape, evidenced by the increase in victims reporting rape and more cases taken to court resulting in more convictions than before. In addition, this Government have implemented a series of legislative and policy improvements to the way in which rape complaints are handled, and to ensure that there is a greater focus on victims’ needs. And as part of the cross-Government VAWG strategy, we made a commitment to exploring the feasibility of setting up and/or extending scrutiny panels, similar to those currently operated by the CPS in relation to hate crime and domestic violence.

However, high-profile cases in the Metropolitan Police Service had exposed how reluctant many rape victims were to report their experiences to the police, and that further improvements could be made in the handling of those complaints where victims did disclose. In response to these cases, a series of measures to improve the investigation and prosecution of rape to ensure victims received a consistent, high-quality service were announced by the Home Office in April 2009, including an inspection of police forces later this year by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. In addition, and as part of the work for the cross-Government violence against women and girls strategy, the Home Secretary asked Sara Payne to make recommendations on how the criminal justice system’s response to rape victims could be improved. The report of Sara Payne’s review was published alongside “Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls”.

However, we took the view that a closer look at the barriers preventing full implementation of current policy was required so we could consider further what more could be done to ensure the effective handling of rape by authorities and to deliver a better service to rape victims. On 22 September 2009, we announced that the noble Baroness, Baroness Stern had agreed to carry out an independent review into the handling of rape complaints, reporting jointly to the Government Equalities Office and the Home Office. Today (15 March 2010), Baroness Stern publishes the findings of her review and recommendations for change.

The Government are grateful to Baroness Stern for conducting this probing review and to the many organisations and individuals who contributed their views. The Government welcome her report and insightful analysis, identifying where further work or reforms are needed and setting out the case for embedding lasting change.

Baroness Stern’s review of services shows that strong progress has been made. Rapists now face more than a one in two chance of being convicted, and the measures which have been put in place to improve the response to rape complaints are having an impact, with much good practice evident across the country. However there is much more to be done, both to support victims and to help them have the confidence to pursue complaints, and to improve intelligence-led policing. We will be considering Baroness Stern’s recommendations carefully on all these points.

In the Government’s interim response to the Stern review, published today, we accept the direction set out in Baroness Stern’s report and agree that existing good practice needs to be spread throughout England and Wales to ensure that people have the correct advice and treatment, regardless of where they live. Her report poses a number of challenges, as well as 23 recommendations, which we need to consider before responding more fully later this year. In doing so, the Government will focus on eight key areas:

Tackling misconceptions about rape;

Forensic examinations;

Joining up services;

Confidence in the response to rape;

Special measures;

Support and advocacy;

Prevention and support for particularly vulnerable groups;

Dealing with misunderstandings about compensation.

Copies of Baroness Stern’s report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available at www.equalities.gov.uk. Copies of the interim response have been placed in the Library and are available at www.equalities.gov.uk. The Government will make a further report to Parliament later this year, with an action plan detailing our full response to the Stern review.