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People with Disabilities (Victims of Rape)

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

6. What assistance the Crown Prosecution Service gives to people with disabilities who are giving evidence as victims in rape cases. (11109)

Giving evidence as a victim in a rape case must be a traumatic experience, no matter whether the person has a disability or not. The Crown Prosecution Service endeavours to ensure that individually tailored support is given to all victims. Victims with disabilities are eligible for a range of special measures to enable them to give their best evidence. In appropriate cases, prosecutors offer to meet victims personally to discuss the need for special measures.

I am afraid that the Minister’s answer reflects the fact that my question has appeared on the Order Paper in a substantially different form from how it went into the Table Office. What I am really concerned about is that people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, are disproportionately the victims of rape, yet the prosecution rate in such cases is very low. What more can be done to ensure that, despite any difficulties they might have in giving evidence, their cases are brought to court?

I will endeavour to assist the hon. Lady, irrespective of the way in which her question ended up on the Order Paper. First, I want to congratulate her on her appointment as the shadow Minister for those affected by disability issues. I am sure that she will be an active participant in these debates, and I hope that policy will develop as a consequence—[Interruption.] I was endeavouring to be genuinely helpful, Mr Speaker.

The main point that I want to get across to the hon. Lady is that any prosecution depends on evidence, and achieving best evidence from people with disabilities is vital. If she is right in saying that a disproportionate number of people with disabilities are raped and that their cases do not get to trial, we must do all that we can—and I do mean we—to ensure that their evidence is presented to court in a way that juries can consider and, if appropriate, bring in a true verdict of guilty.

Will the Attorney-General keep in mind the recommendation of the Justice Committee that the courts are quite capable of treating people with learning disabilities, and those with mental health problems, as credible witnesses? The Crown Prosecution Service should not be frightened to bring such witnesses before the courts.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As I hope I indicated in my first reply, the Crown Prosecution Service does its very best to ensure that all victims of rape are properly treated and that their evidence is put before the court so that the alleged defendants, or alleged criminals, can be brought to justice. I have absolutely no doubt that the CPS will do its very best. I should add that, having recently attended the Judicial Studies Board course on serious sex offences, I know that the judiciary are acutely aware of the need to deal with the sort of problems that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Given that one of the vulnerabilities that people with learning disabilities face is that some of those carrying out abuse and rapes in residential settings will move to another care home and might get lost in the system, and given that the Government have announced that they no longer intend to proceed with putting the application for anonymity on a legislative basis, and want to look at non-statutory options, may I urge the Solicitor-General and his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to ensure that there is wide consultation on any non-statutory option to extend anonymity?

Certain European jurisdictions have the use of specialist rape courts, which enable best evidence and have increased conviction rates, so would the Attorney-General consider that?

All judges who try serious sexual offences cases are specially trained, as are the prosecutors from the Crown Prosecution Service and the people who assist prior to trials, such as those who work in the sexual assault referral centres and the independent domestic and sexual violence advisers, who were mentioned in an earlier question. My hon. Friend makes a good point, which underlines our earlier discussions.