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Domestic Abuse: Prosecution Rates

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 31 January 2019

Dealing with domestic abuse is a top priority for the Government, and I regularly engage with the CPS on this subject. The CPS wants to ensure that every victim of domestic abuse has full confidence in the justice system. Only last month it unveiled a best practice model developed in partnership with the police and the Courts Service to help victims through the criminal justice process.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What success has the Crown Prosecution Service had in prosecuting controlling and coercive behaviour as a feature of domestic abuse?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Since we introduced the law on coercive control several years ago the number of charges continues to increase. In 2016-17, 309 charges were brought, but last year that trebled to 960.

One of the main barriers to victims of domestic abuse and rape coming forward is the fear of having to hand their entire lives and personal information over to the defence. What steps is the CPS taking to ensure that victims are reassured that disclosure is appropriate and proportionate, and that victims are not asked to sign away their privacy?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. Several months ago, the Attorney General and I issued a new paper on disclosure, and that will be followed by revised guidelines this year. We are acutely conscious of the need to balance the interests of justice not just in favour of defendants but in favour of victims. A blanket approach to disclosure is not something we encourage; it will depend on the facts of the case. I am glad that the number of cases that are being dropped because of issues with victims continues to fall, and I think that is a sign of progress.

The latest figures published by the Home Office show that only 1.9% of recorded rapes are prosecuted. Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner, said:

“I am often hearing from victims of sexual crime that their criminal justice journey is as harrowing as the crime itself. This is just not acceptable. I fear we are letting these victims down badly.”

She is right, isn’t she?

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that only last week I met Baroness Newlove and discussed these very issues. It is vitally important that colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and across Government understand that the journey for victims in cases like this can be an extremely tough one. That is well understood. That is why the agencies are now working together to ease that journey. I do not pretend that the task is easy or that the job is anywhere near finished, but the commitment is there, and we will continue to work to support victims of rape.

I do not dispute the Solicitor General’s worthy intentions in this, but we have a situation where two in 100 reported rapes are reaching prosecution. It is a quite appalling statistic. First, he must acknowledge the impact that spending cuts have had on the ability to investigate these offences. Secondly, he should acknowledge that piecemeal change is no longer enough—the time has come for drastic action.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he must not forget that independent prosecutors have to apply evidential tests and it will not always be the case that complaints will merit a prosecution. I wholly reject his suggestion that expenditure cuts have resulted in a decrease in prosecutions. Expenditure is not an issue when it comes to the prosecution of offences, and never will be.