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CPS Engagement with Local Communities

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 23 May 2019

4. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of CPS engagement with local communities on the judicial process. (911056)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of CPS engagement with local communities on the judicial process. (911060)

The Attorney General’s Office has regular engagement with the Crown Prosecution Service, and we know that the issue of community engagement is of key importance to the CPS. In May 2018, it launched its inclusion and community engagement strategy in addition to the existing consultation groups and scrutiny panels, all of which are pivotal in building trust with all communities in relation to CPS decisions.

I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her post. Can she give an example of community engagement in my local CPS area?

My hon. Friend’s constituency falls within the Merseyside and Cheshire CPS area, and the inclusion and community engagement manager there is Jennifer Friday. She manages an ambitious programme of community engagement that includes sessions in high schools and a community conversation with people with learning disabilities, and I commend her work. The local criminal justice board has set up a sub-group to focus on hate crime, which is chaired by the CPS and includes Sefton Council.

Does the Minister agree that local engagement with religious and minority groups helps to build public confidence in the criminal justice system?

It is absolutely vital that the CPS engages with all communities in the region where it operates. There is a variety of local engagement strategies, including through the local scrutiny boards, and I am aware that the local chief Crown prosecutor for the west midlands has specifically engaged with the Muslim community to help to build local relations there.

Having spoken to victims of crime and to police officers, I feel it would be hugely beneficial for the promotion of engagement and understanding of the CPS if it had the ability to explain charging decisions directly to the victims of crime. Does the Solicitor General agree, and how are we resourcing the CPS to do that work?

It is absolutely vital that the CPS talks to victims and understands both them and local communities. In fact, the CPS produced an inclusion and community engagement strategy in May 2018, which has been widely recommended. Hate crime and violence against women and girls strategy boards can discuss such issues locally.

I wish the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), well in his new role. Of course, I welcome the hon. and learned Lady to her new appointment.

One area in which community engagement by the Crown Prosecution Service is vital is the terrible crime of rape. The latest Home Office figures show that the proportion of reported rapes reaching prosecution is now at a pitiful 1.7%. In January, the proportion was 1.9%. Why does the Solicitor General think that an awful figure has got even worse in recent months?

Rape is an absolutely terrible crime, and those who suffer it need to be supported through the criminal justice system. I am pleased that the reporting figures for rape have gone up over the years, and that more people are feeling able to report rape. We have managed to improve those figures through the pilots that we have run in various regions, which are going to be rolled out. Conviction rates still need to go up, and we are looking at how to improve them.

That percentage was not for convictions, but for the proportion of rapes even reaching charging stage. The Law Officers are presiding over a situation in which more than 98% of reported rapes are not even getting to that stage. We desperately need action, so may I make some suggestions? Let us stop the cuts to the investigative capacity of the police and the CPS, let us get the balance on disclosure right, and let us invest properly in victim support. I say seriously to the Law Officers that the figures are appalling—they must get a grip.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, rape is one of the most difficult offences to prove, with cases often relying on say-so and the testimony of individuals—the evidence of two people. I recently met the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the issue, and he reiterated the importance of collecting evidence in these terrible crimes so that we can bring successful prosecutions.