The Law Officers regularly meet ministerial colleagues, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions and others, to drive forward progress on what we all want to see: justice for victims of rape and serious sexual offences. Last week, I went to meet RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—prosecutors at the Crown Prosecution Service west midlands, and was pleased to congratulate them on helping to secure several recent convictions, including that of a double rapist, Daniel Jones, who was later imprisoned for 17 years for his appalling crimes.
A recent report from the National Audit Office states that rape cases are most at risk of collapse as people withdraw. Does the Minister agree that the Government are failing rape victims, who can wait years for their cases to be heard, leading many of them to withdraw from the process? Can he explain why the Government opposed Labour’s proposals, which would have enabled the fast-tracking of rape cases and the pre-recording of victims’ evidence?
That is because there are already active measures to pre-record evidence, as the hon. Gentleman should know. He is absolutely right that we need to speed up the system. That is why “RASSO 2025” was published by the CPS; that is why there is a joint national action plan between the police and the CPS to improve file quality; that is why there is an end-to-end rape review; and that is why the Government have put £80 million into the CPS to ensure that justice can be done.
Local community safety partnerships across Devon and Cornwall estimate that in 2019-20 there were 23,000 victims of sexual assault across the two counties, including in my own constituency. How will the Minister ensure that local leaders are given the powers and tools they need to hold all criminal justice agencies, including the CPS, to account locally for delivering the progress that is so needed on prosecutions?
I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent question. She is a tireless champion of this issue in North Devon. Every agency, from the police to the CPS to Whitehall Departments, has been mobilised to drive improvements in outcomes for these complex and sensitive cases. As well as launching “RASSO 2025” by the police and the joint national action plan, the Government are investing heavily in the recruitment of ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisors—to support complainants through the court process. I will just say this: it is early days, but initial data is positive. The number of rape prosecutions in the second quarter of this year was 14% higher than in the last quarter pre-covid, and the number of convictions 16% higher over the same period.
The rape review lumps together spending on tackling domestic violence and rape. The headline figure is £176 million, but £125 million of that is for refuge accommodation. That is vital, but it is nothing to do with improving victims’ experience of the criminal justice system or improving rape convictions. Can the Minister explain just how much new funding he has secured from the Treasury to support rape victims to get justice?
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point. He is absolutely right that refuge accommodation is very important, but it is not everything. One of the things that I am very proud of is that an additional £27 million is going on recruiting 700 independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic abuse advisers. Those individuals can provide critical support to people who, frankly, might find the whole process forbidding. Also, we have done work to publish the victims’ code in April 2021, which provides victims with the rights that they deserve.
I understand the Minister’s response well, but this is not just about cases going to court more quickly to have them processed. It is also about those ladies and rape victims who are very vulnerable and very lonely. What will happen in the time period until the case is heard to ensure that they have the assistance and help that they need, from every point of view?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One of the other things that we have done is to increase funding for rape support centres by two thirds so that individuals know that they are not alone. The constant refrain from individuals will be, “I didn’t feel supported”, but it would be quite wrong for the message to go out suggesting that there is not that support. This is what victims said after a case recently in my county of Gloucestershire. Victim B said:
“I would just like to say how happy I am with the whole criminal justice system. The support offered is amazing.”
Victim C said:
“The support from the police and GRASAC (Gloucestershire’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre) has been amazing”.
That support is out there and we want to make sure it is there in ever greater quantities.
I welcome the Solicitor General to his place for his first departmental questions. He brings massive personal experience to cases of this kind and has prosecuted exactly these sorts of cases. Does he agree that there has been significant improvement in the treatment of victims, particularly after the revision of the Crown Prosecution Service legal guidance—for example, in the awareness of trauma and the impact that that has on victims—and in getting the right balance in dealing with digital evidence? Is it not important now that we maintain the capacity of the courts system to bring these cases to trial in the timeliest fashion in terms of judges, court availability and quality, experienced advocates to deal with these important prosecutions?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. As always, he is absolutely right: we have to strike this important balance in respect of digital evidence to ensure that the evidence to put people behind bars is appropriately obtained without compromising the right to a fair trial. No one here wants to do that. He is absolutely correct about capacity as well. The Lord Chief Justice has made that point very powerfully and it is one to which we are acutely alive.
I also welcome the Solicitor General to his place. When asked by Sky News about rape prosecutions, the Prime Minister said that the CPS is not taking rape prosecutions seriously enough. He also refused to commit to the Government’s promise in their rape review to restore rape prosecution rates to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament. Does the Solicitor General agree with the Prime Minister’s comments? Is this not just another example of victims being abandoned by this Government?
No, that is not the case at all. The really important thing is to look at the actions. One of the things that I was very heartened by in this year’s spending review is that the additional funding that is going into the CPS is extremely significant—it is £80 million. To put that into concrete terms, that means that there will be an additional 100 RASSO prosecutors. The ones I met in CPS west midlands were incredibly motivated, diligent, decent and determined individuals. The Prime Minister is very clear about wanting to see improvements, and he is getting behind it by providing pounds, shillings and pence.