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Rape and Serious Sexual Offences

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016

The Crown Prosecution Service continues to improve its response to cases involving rape allegations and other forms of serious sexual offending. It has taken a number of steps to improve the conviction rate, which includes increasing the number of specialist staff within its dedicated rape and serious sexual offences unit and improved specialist training for prosecutors.

Despite claims that we have the highest ever number of convictions, conviction rates for rape, domestic abuse and other sexual abuses have fallen in the past two years. How does the Minister intend to rectify that situation?

The hon. Gentleman rightly points to the fact that the actual number of convictions continues to increase, which means justice for more and more victims. It is right that the Crown Prosecution Service brings cases to juries, and, of course, it is a matter for juries to determine whether a suspect is guilty. Increased funding for the rape and serious sexual offences units means an improved early engagement with the police so that the experience of victims becomes a better one, and we have tried and tested evidence that the experience of victims is vital if we are to make improvements.

Part of improving the evidence of victims is surely through the increased use of live links, which we are already seeing, where victims do not physically have to come to the court building to give their evidence. The report published this week by the CPS inspectorate and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recognises that. It says that, in some areas, the scheme is doing very well, but, in others

“the courts and the CPS were not comfortable with live links even though the video technology was available.”

What more can be done to spread consistency in its uptake?

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight that important report. In places such as Kent, best practice is clearly being demonstrated. With regard to national training, which is happening now, we will see more and more use of live links from victims’ homes and other safe places to avoid the terrible ordeal in many cases of victims having to come to court to give evidence in the courtroom.

Providing effective and compassionate support for victims and survivors of sexual violence is pivotal to ensuring that more of these heinous crimes are reported in the first place, and, ultimately, that more offenders are brought to justice. Will the Minister tell me how the Government intend to improve victim and witness care within the criminal justice system?

The hon. Lady may already know that revised guidance to prosecutors and Crown Prosecution Service staff about victim and witness care in the courts is already being rolled out. There are also more staff in the court system to help and support witnesses and victims through the process. More work is being done and will be done to ensure that the objectives that she and I share are met.

Will the Solicitor General join me in welcoming the recent violence against women and girls statistics, which show that more cases than ever before are being charged, prosecuted and convicted?

I certainly welcome those statistics. Importantly, they make the point that, when it comes to people’s lives, more and more individuals are finding that their cases are being heard and that justice is being done on the perpetrators of these appalling offences.

What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Assembly about the possibility of extending Clare’s law to the Province, particularly in the light of the revelation from Women’s Aid that six murders in Northern Ireland had links with domestic abuse?

The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the important innovation of Clare’s law, which was introduced in the last Government. I was a key supporter of that legislation. I would be happy to have discussions with colleagues in Northern Ireland. However, it is a matter that, quite properly, has been devolved, but if it would help, I will of course hold those discussions.