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Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2010

I have regular discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a range of criminal matters. Rape is one of the most serious and damaging of all crimes. I support the work undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service, with other agencies, to improve the way in which prosecutions are conducted and victims are treated in such cases.

What impact does the Attorney-General believe that cuts in police numbers will have on the number of rape cases being investigated and the number of cases being referred to the CPS for prosecution?

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that sometimes we lose focus by discussing the process of decision making about prosecution instead of focusing on deficiencies in the investigation of the crime? Particularly with reference to rape, that is a real problem that police forces are having to cope with.

It is absolutely right that the investigation of rape is one of the most difficult tasks for the police. That is for a whole range of reasons, including the difficulties of getting victims to come forward, the problems that the police face in having to look after them properly when they do, and the difficulties of ensuring that they will come to court to give evidence. There are also the problems that have been experienced with victims retracting their evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service, the police and I are very much alive to all those factors, and we will continue to do all we can to improve the way in which this type of offence is handled.

The Law Officers will be aware of the case of Sarah, as covered in recent weeks by The Guardian newspaper. Sarah—not her real name—has recently been released on appeal from Styal prison having served 18 days of an eight-month sentence for falsely retracting rape allegations against her husband following alleged intimidation by him and his family. The case raises a number of very serious questions about approaches within the criminal justice system to supporting victims of rape and domestic violence, and there is a risk that it will deter victims from coming forward to report these terrible crimes. Will the Attorney-General meet the Director of Public Prosecutions and me to consider the CPS’s approach to prosecuting women in such cases and to discuss ways that we can better support victims and witnesses of crime?

First, let me reassure the hon. Lady that the comments made by the Lord Chief Justice in the course of that appeal against sentence are being considered carefully by me and, I have no doubt, by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I trust that lessons may be learned from the way in which that case was conducted. However, it is also worth bearing in mind, as I am sure that she would acknowledge, that individuals who bring allegations and then retract them pose particular problems within the criminal justice system, and those cannot necessarily just be ignored. The hon. Lady knows that if she wishes to have a meeting with me, I will always make myself available, and if she wishes to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions, the convention has always been that she should have access to him as well.