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Allegations of Rape: Effective Investigations

Volume 696: debated on Monday 7 June 2021

What steps her Department is taking to ensure effective investigations by the police of allegations of rape to help improve the number of cases that result in charges being made. (901015)

Supporting victims of sexual violence and abuse is an important priority for this Government. In the past five years, we have seen a significant decline in the number of charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape. That is why we have carried out a robust end-to-end review of the criminal justice response. The review will be published shortly and will set out clear action to reverse this trend and to ensure that victims receive the support they deserve and that perpetrators face justice.

There is currently a backlog of 57,000 cases in the Crown court, with victims of rape and serious sexual violence often left to wait years to go to trial. Sadly, they are the minority who received sufficient support to bring a case forward in the first place. Will the Minister commit to bringing forward urgently proposals for the fast-tracking of rape and serious sexual assault cases? Will he also confirm the creation of specialist rape and serious sexual violence units in every police force to ensure that cases are brought against alleged perpetrators?

Two of the key planks of the work that we will be undertaking in this area—indeed, we have started already—are, first, yes, to shorten the timeframe between a report and a case getting to court, and secondly, to develop expertise throughout the system to ensure that victims get the justice they need, but in particular that investigations focus on perpetrators.

To follow up on what has just been said, rape prosecutions in England and Wales are at their lowest on record. One third of all the violent crime recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related, and now only 1.6% of rape cases are even being charged, let alone convicted. That is all according to the latest figures from the Home Office. This situation is untenable and it is worsening on the Home Secretary’s watch. The Government are leaving dangerous rapists and violent offenders on our streets and in our communities, so will the Minister and the Department back calls to ensure that violence against women and girls is included in the definition of serious violence in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including domestic abuse-related violence and all sexual violence?

In the urgent question that I answered on this subject not two weeks ago, I expressed serious regret about the conviction numbers that the hon. Lady mentions. It is not a situation that any of us should be happy with, and we have confirmed as a Government that we will do our utmost to turn that around. She will understand, I know, because she is from the west midlands, that we will need the assistance of police and crime commissioners and chief constables to do so. I hope that she will join us in urging them to play their part in what will be the enormous task of turning this particular challenge around.

As for the serious violence duty, that will no doubt be debated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), during the Bill Committee, but I would hope, whether or not there is a statutory duty for everybody to play their part in dealing with this problem, that all those other organisations—whether that means health or local authorities, or, indeed, police and crime commissioners—will step forward anyway, because the moral case is strong and I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will make it with us.