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Violence against Women and Girls/Hate Crimes: Successful Prosecutions

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

5. What steps she has taken to increase the number of successful prosecutions relating to (a) violence against women and girls and (b) hate crimes. [R] (904918)

This Government take tackling domestic abuse and hate crime extremely seriously, as shown by the introduction of the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and our commitment to publishing a new hate crime strategy later this year. The CPS is working hard to deliver justice and to protect the public, and it has recently published an ambitious 12-month domestic abuse programme to help narrow the disparity between reporting and criminal justice outcomes.

Clearly not that seriously, certainly in Warwickshire; according to the CPS data, Warwickshire has the lowest conviction rate—47% conviction against prosecution—at 1.3%. Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, criticised that as the “effective decriminalisation of rape”. She is right, is she not?

No, she is not right. We understand, of course, that we need to do better when it comes to charging rape and to RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—outcomes. The Director of Public Prosecutions accepts that and I accept that. However, we must be fair about where the problem is, so that we can be frank about the solutions. About 10% of police referrals make it to the CPS and, in the most recent data, we see a slight increase—nationally—in the CPS charging rate when it comes to rape, so there are some early signs of improvement. Above all, we have a great commitment by the CPS and criminal justice partners to improve the situation. The rape review was published last year, and we have seen the RASSO 2025 strategy. Innovative processes around Operation Soteria and Operation Bluestone are changing the way police and prosecutors work to better tackle rape and serious sexual offences, so that victims are better supported through the process.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that the CPS and her Department invest in ensuring that we have the best-quality prosecutors for rape and serious sexual offences, as well as the manpower and the technology to deal with delays in disclosure, which is of particular relevance in these cases; but, equally, that we need a whole-systems approach to avoid the very considerable level of attrition that comes before, as she rightly observes, cases ever get to the charging stage? That means co-operation, above all, with the police at early stages of the investigation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he puts his finger on the problem. That is why the additional funding that the CPS received last year will partially be dedicated to improving its resources and firepower in dealing with RASSO. We will see a bolstering of specialist RASSO units. A hundred new prosecutors have already been trained in RASSO within the CPS, and within the next three months 70 experienced staff will be appointed into RASSO posts in the pathfinder areas.

I highlight the fact that Operation Soteria and Operation Bluestone in Avon and Somerset are being rolled out more widely throughout the CPS areas. They are pioneering better working between police officer and prosecutor, earlier investigative advice and greater support for victims to turn around the decline when it comes to victims’ withdrawal from the process; that is critical to the success of a prosecution.

I thank the Minister for that response. Not only is there clearly a need for successful prosecutions, but women—ladies—and girls feel particularly vulnerable and fearful in society today. What is being done across the UK to ease, protect and restore confidence among ladies and ensure that they feel safe on the streets of this country?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. He is absolutely right, and that is why we have rolled out an increased number of independent sexual violence advisers. That is why we are rolling out a victims code, because complainants—

Order. This is a supplementary to the original question. Normally it is taken by the same person who answered the first question. I believe in job sharing, but this is taking it a little bit too far.

I apologise, Mr Speaker. I wanted the Chamber to enjoy the oratory and eloquence of my hon. Friend, but we will be denied that for a few moments longer.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is right, but I want to emphasise the commitment to fighting violence against women and girls that this Government have not only talked about, but demonstrated through actions. Not only have we introduced new offences—for stalking, coercive and controlling behaviour, revenge porn and upskirting—but, as announced this week, we are making a new criminal offence of non-consensual photographing of breastfeeding women in public, and we have provided support on domestic abuse through our landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This Government have pioneered a plethora of historic changes to show that we support women and girls and to make Britain a safer place for them.