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Rape (Conviction Rates)

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on increasing the Crown Prosecution Service’s conviction rate for rape where the defendant contests the charge. (142503)

I meet the Director of Public Prosecutions regularly and discuss this issue, most recently on 23 January 2013. The Crown Prosecution Service remains committed to robustly prosecuting perpetrators of rape and serious sexual assaults. Following an investigation of rape where the defendant contests the charge, the CPS will work closely with the police to build a strong prosecution case and review the matter in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Frances Andrade tragically took her own life during the course of the trial that she described as like being “raped all over again”. What steps will the Attorney-General take to ensure that CPS policy on vulnerable victims and witnesses seeking counselling is enforced, particularly given the worrying allegations that Mrs Andrade was discouraged by the police from seeking support?

There is no doubt that the story of Mrs Andrade is tragic, and I am sure the House will join me in expressing our sympathy to her relatives and family. I take very seriously any suggestion that she might not have received the support to which she was entitled. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Home Secretary announced yesterday that the police were carrying out a review of their role in this matter, and I have no doubt that the CPS will contribute to that process. I can say that on the information I have been given at present, it appears to me that the CPS took all steps that I would have expected to try to support her as a vulnerable victim and witness. However, I would like to emphasise that that is not to say that there may not be lessons that can be learned from this tragic case.

Does it not need to be made very clear that every possible assistance in the courtroom will be offered to witnesses in such a position and that therapy or treatment needed for the mental health of the witness will not be prevented?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Taking the second matter first, let me say that the CPS’s guidelines are crystal clear that a victim or witness giving evidence should not be prevented from accessing the care or counselling they might require. Indeed, I believe that Mrs Andrade was specifically referred to the possibility of counselling when it was seen that she was distressed prior to the case taking place. On the issues in court, protocols are in place to try to familiarise people with the court process and to ensure that the trauma of giving evidence in court is lessened, including of course the possibility of special measures. In Mrs Andrade’s case, however, she made it clear that she did not wish special measures to be introduced.

I draw the Attorney-General’s attention to the comments made by the Surrey police and crime commissioner that seem to contradict what the Attorney-General has just said. Might it be appropriate to write to all PCCs to reiterate what he has just said to the House of Commons?

I am aware of the comment about what might have been said in Surrey, but I reiterate the position of both the CPS and the Greater Manchester police, who investigated this matter: there is no reason someone should not receive counselling and every reason they should, if they need it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of this issue being raised; I am obviously aware of it as well, and I can reassure the hon. Lady that we will investigate to ascertain whether there was a failure of communication on the part of anyone in respect of Mrs Andrade.

On the issue of sexual violence, the CPS website states that one in 10 women who experience sexual assault do not report it to the police. What is the Attorney-General’s Department doing, in line with other agencies, to tackle this?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the CPS gets it references from the police, so unless a case is referred to it, it cannot carry out an investigation. It works closely with the police, however, both to improve the conviction rates for rape—it has been consistently successful in doing that for some years—and to encourage people to come forward by ensuring that the victim support process available provides reassurance that people will be helped.

Has the tragic suicide of Frances Andrade after giving evidence as a victim of rape not shown us that we have a system strewn with high-minded codes, pledges and guidance to victims that are brushed aside in practice? She was refused counselling and, as already stated, her PCC has said that victims will not and should not be referred for counselling until after they have given evidence. That is clearly in breach of the agreed code. Is the CPS in charge of these cases or not? It clearly did not know what was happening in the case of Mrs Andrade. In how many other cases has the victim not been properly supported and does the CPS simply not know what is going on? I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has stated that she will look into this and that the Attorney-General has stated today that he will too, but is it not time that we had a proper review that overarched all the agencies to ensure that we have a decent rape prosecution policy in this country, not one that just looks good on paper?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns, although I am not sure I entirely share the sweeping generalisations that she derives from them. As I said earlier, the evidence is that, under the last Government and the present Government, through the work of the CPS, the conviction rate for rape has consistently been improving. The House will want to bear that in mind.

On the very serious suggestions that Mrs Andrade was somehow misled, yes that is a matter of concern to me. As I indicated in an earlier answer, the information I have been given supports my view that both the CPS and the Greater Manchester police correctly advised her and recommended routes by which she could obtain counselling. The suggestion that some other organisation or police force might have said something to the contrary is obviously of serious concern and will be looked into.