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Domestic Violence

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 14 January 2016

10. What recent steps the Crown Prosecution Service has taken to improve the conviction rate for rape and domestic violence. (903034)

The CPS has taken a number of steps to improve the conviction rate for rape and domestic violence abuse cases, including refocusing resources to strengthen the rape and serious sexual offences unit’s extensive training on rape cases for prosecutors, an update of domestic abuse legal guidance, and closer working with the police.

That is all very well, and I am grateful for the Minister’s reply, but it will not hide the fact that the conviction rate for rape has fallen by 5.6% in the last four years, and is now just over 56%. The conviction rate for domestic abuse has also fallen. Clearly, something is happening, and I would welcome the Minister’s view of what that might be, and a clear indication of what action he will take to increase conviction rates, particularly for rape.

The right hon. Gentleman has taken a long interest in this matters, and he is right to raise those issues. I remind him that the volumes of outcomes continue to increase to their highest ever levels. I have mentioned rape, but domestic violence outcomes have also increased dramatically to their highest ever levels, which means justice for thousands more victims. It is incumbent on the CPS to examine the reasons why prosecutions do not succeed, and the key for the Attorney General and me is to ensure that the prosecution does not bring charges and then drop them without good reason. It should allow such cases to go to a jury, so that juries and magistrates can make decisions.

May I take a slightly contrary view? As we all know, about a year ago a colleague of ours was found innocent of rape, and more recently a young student was also found innocent of rape. It is important that the Crown Prosecution Service does not prosecute people lightly, and if it thinks that a person is innocent, it should ensure that they are not prosecuted.

I assure my hon. Friend that in every case the prosecution must apply the test of a reasonable prospect of conviction, and of whether that prosecution is in the public interest. That should apply to everybody, whether they are in this House or any other part of the country. There must be equality before the law, and the evidence must be followed wherever it leads.

Despite what the Solicitor General has said, conviction rates for rape, other sexual offences and domestic abuse have all fallen, and the Government need to do far more to reduce the incidence of those offences, as well as more to support victims. Last year the Labour party made a manifesto commitment to legislate with a violence against women and girls Bill, just as the groundbreaking Welsh Labour Government have done. The Bill would include provisions to appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards to tackle domestic and sexual violence. Will the Government do the same?

First, may I warmly welcome the hon. Lady to her position? It is a pleasure to see her. Indeed, we worked together for many years in the south Wales legal fraternity.

The Government are absolutely committed to funding the combating of violence against women and girls. A cross-ministerial group, of which I am a member, meets regularly, and we have introduced new legislation to criminalise coercive control. We have enhanced the tools the police and the prosecution have at their disposal, which is why the number of prosecutions for domestic abuse and rape continues to rise.

Now a lawyer who is not a member of the Welsh legal fraternity, but we want to hear from him anyway. I call Huw Merriman.