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Rape and Sexual Assault: Prosecutions and Conviction Rates

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 5 November 2020

We and the Crown Prosecution Service are working tirelessly with criminal justice partners to improve the handling of these sensitive cases. Over the last four quarters, we have seen the charging and conviction rates in rape cases continue to increase. This year, the CPS published its own rape strategy, updated rape legal guidance and training, is actively engaging in the Government rape review and will shortly be publishing a joint action plan on rape with the police.

The Solicitor General will know that rape prosecutions in England and Wales are now at the lowest ever levels. I suspect he shares the lack of surprise I felt when I learned that just one in seven rape survivors will ever see the justice system deliver justice for them. Can he confirm when the end-to-end rape review will be published by his Government?

I am very grateful for the hon. Member’s question because it highlights what we know and accept around the House is an important issue. Driving up rape prosecutions continues to be a major focus for the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, as work progresses to reverse this negative trend. We have actually seen the proportion of suspects charged with rape slowly increasing and we have also seen a continued increase in the volume of suspects charged, but I accept the thrust of her point, which is that there is more work to do. More work is being done, and as soon as these reports are ready, they will be published.

I welcome the recent announcements from the CPS and the guidance it has published to improve rape prosecution rates, particularly in relation to modern dating apps and selfies. However, the rape review published by the Victims’ Commissioner revealed that a large number of women are still reluctant to report rape in the first instance, because of an enduring concern that they will not be believed by the police when they do so. Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what steps he is taking to ensure that the support and the structures exist so that women who come forward can have confidence that there is a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction?

The Crown Prosecution Service and the Government are determined to restore faith and build more faith in the criminal justice system, and to give victims of rape—this horrific offence—the confidence that everything will be done to bring offenders to justice. That is why the Government are reviewing the end-to-end response to this awful crime, in consultation with survivors groups as well as the Victims’ Commissioner, while recruiting more police and putting more money into the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a priority: it is a priority for me and for the Attorney General, for the Crown Prosecution Service and for this Government. I thank my hon. Friend for her support in this matter.

I have listened to what the Solicitor General has had to say, but the reality is that rape prosecutions are at their lowest level on record, and according to the Victims’ Commissioner, only one in seven rape victims has faith in the justice system. Last week, we discovered that an under-resourced CPS is not even getting the basics right, with almost half of letters to victims lacking empathy. It is clear that this Government are letting down victims of rape on every front. I have heard about the consultations and the reviews, but what urgent action are the Government taking to reverse this trend and ensure that victims have faith in the criminal justice system when they need it the most?

It is very important that victims have faith, and we ask everyone involved in the criminal justice system to support that system in giving victims faith. Dealing with this awful crime is a high priority for the Crown Prosecution Service, and for the Government, and driving up rape prosecutions continues to be a major focus. The overall trend over the past quarter shows that the volume and proportion of suspects charged is slowly increasing, but I accept that there is more work to do in this complex and multifaceted area. We are working with a number of bodies, including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, to facilitate improvements, so that people can, and should, have the fullest confidence in our criminal justice system.

It has been a year and a half since the publication of the Gillen review into serious sexual offences and how they are prosecuted through the courts in Northern Ireland, and the Solicitor General’s office has taken a considerable interest in that, until the re-establishment of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. It will now be another year before legislative changes are tabled in the Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with that review, which quite frankly is not acceptable. What can be done in this place to expedite those necessary changes and ensure that victims get fairness and equal British justice across all the United Kingdom?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman stands up for the people of Northern Ireland, and he is right to focus on that issue. I will make inquiries with the Northern Ireland Office and see how that matter is progressing, but he will acknowledge that there are no doubt legislative pressures, and that these things do take time. I assure him, however, that every effort will be made to liaise, and where possible to assist, in the furtherance of this matter.