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Specialist Rape and Child Abuse Prosecutors

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service’s networks of specialist rape and child abuse prosecutors are adequately funded. (128878)

6. What steps he is taking to ensure that the CPS’s networks of specialist rape and child abuse prosecutors are adequately funded. (128883)

9. What steps he is taking to ensure that the CPS’s networks of specialist rape and child abuse prosecutors are adequately funded. (128886)

The prosecution of rape and child abuse is and will remain a key priority for the Crown Prosecution Service and will continue to be funded accordingly.

I thank the Solicitor-General for that rather brief response. Will child abuse cases always be prosecuted by specialist advocates or, as is now the case in rape trials, only when the specialist happens to be available?

That is not correct. All Crown Prosecution Service advocates have been trained in how to deal with domestic violence cases. Some 800 have been fully trained as rape specialists, and they are always involved in any rape case, so it is not right to say that that is not so. A network has been set up, under Mr Nazir Afzal, the chief Crown prosecutor for the north-west, to look at child sexual exploitation and improve prosecution, and it is proving successful.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has indicated that the Crown Prosecution Service’s failings in child grooming cases go well beyond Rochdale, and he said that a whole category of crimes has not been well treated by the criminal justice system. Does the Solicitor-General know how many cases the DPP is referring to and whether any of them will now be revisited by the CPS?

Whenever a case is the subject of further evidence or it is suggested that the right prosecution decision has not been made, the CPS takes that very seriously, and, as the hon. Lady will know, it reviews cases as appropriate. It is worth making the point that the CPS is improving its performance in rape and sexual abuse cases. Rape convictions are up by 4% year on year, and that is continuing in the current year, and there is an improvement across the area of sexual violence generally.

Rape convictions may be up, but they are still woefully low. Given that next Sunday is international day to end violence against women, will the Solicitor-General expand on his earlier comments about the number of specialist prosecutors? The key question is whether there are enough of them for justice to be pursued swiftly, which makes things better for the victim and more likely that a prosecution will be secured.

The hon. Lady is right to say that this is a key priority. It is extremely important that the Crown Prosecution Service deals effectively with these cases, which are so important. That is why a huge effort is going on, with improvements to guidance and ensuring that prosecutors are properly trained in this area. As she may know, the Director of Public Prosecutions himself led the training for prosecutors in the past year and made sure that particular reference was made to supporting witnesses. This is an area of vital concern. I could go on for hours, but I will not.

Does the Solicitor-General share my concern at the delay in prosecutions being brought in North Yorkshire because of the lack of a sexual assault and rape centre? Will he use his good offices to ensure that we have one at the first available opportunity not only to enable counselling to be given but forensic evidence to be taken to enable rapid prosecutions to take place?

It is important to have very good arrangements for the support of witnesses. As somebody who has prosecuted rape cases, I can say that they are not easy. It is very important that witnesses feel confident that they can give their evidence, and that is all about support. I will certainly look into the situation that my hon. Friend has mentioned, but she should not think anything other than that the Government take this extremely seriously, as does the Crown Prosecution Service.