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Rape Prosecution Rates

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

We are united in our combined efforts, across Government, to improve performance for victims and increase the number of successful rape cases that go through our courts. Since we published our rape review action plan, there has been a steady increase in the number of rape charges, prosecutions and convictions quarter on quarter. We are closing the gap between complaints and convictions. Most notably, the number of convictions for rape offences is up by 27% on the number in 2019.

In Lancashire, our brilliant police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, is funding a variety of projects to reduce the number of rape and serious sexual offences. They include dedicated specialist support services for victims, and Operation Night Guardian, which focuses on the night economy. How is the CPS in Lancashire working alongside our police and crime commissioner to improve the rates of conviction for these abhorrent crimes?

I am pleased to report that CPS North West is in an Operation Soteria area. Operation Soteria, which was introduced recently under this Government, is an ambitious joint police and CPS programme of work to transform the way in which rape prosecutions are handled. It will provide a renewed focus on investigating the suspect rather than the victim, and will ultimately create a new operating model for the investigation and prosecution of rape. We are pleased to be seeing the green shoots of progress nationally: the number of rape convictions has increased by 29% compared with the last quarter pre-covid.

I have a constituent whose sperm was used without his consent by his ex-partner so that she could become pregnant. The police have looked at the case and passed it to the CPS, which says that the law does not allow it to deal with the offence as any kind of sexual assault. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the law? This is not just “sperm theft”, but a form of sexual assault and a violation of my constituent’s rights.

My thoughts are very much with my hon. Friend’s constituent. That sounds like a very traumatic affair. I want to thank her for raising this case. I know that she has already received a reply from my Department setting out the reasons why the CPS could not proceed with this particular case. The CPS looked at all the facts of the case carefully and considered all the available offences under current legislation before determining that no offence had been committed under current law. I will raise the case with my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice so that they might look at the existing statutory framework.

Since the Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade judgment, a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who is pregnant as a result of rape has been forced to travel to Indiana from her home state for an abortion, which she could not get locally. Will the Attorney General condemn the appalling cruelty that has resulted, and will result, from the Supreme Court ruling? Will she also condemn the Conservative MPs who celebrated it on social media?

I do not think it is the right of a UK Government Minister to comment on a judicial decision in another jurisdiction such as the United States. That is a matter for the United States Supreme Court and the United States Congress to resolve. What I am focused on is the experience of victims in Britain and Wales and how we can improve our criminal justice system. That is why I am very proud of the achievements that we have secured. I am very proud that, for example, the CPS prosecuted 430,000 defendants last year on a whole suite of offences, including 69 alleged terrorists, 33 of whom were convicted, and 19,000 serious violence offences, with a conviction rate of almost 75%. Those are the statistics, the facts and the policies on which I am focused.

Is the Attorney-General proud of her achievements when the delay between offence and completion in rape cases is now more than 1,000 days and there are 50 UK Crown courts with delays of more than three years and 18 with delays of more than four years? Does she agree with the Victims Commissioner that these delays are appalling? Could she take time out from her leadership campaign to look at bringing in pre-recorded evidence and cross-examination in all rape cases in all Crown courts now?

Actually, what we are seeing as a result of pioneering operations such as Soteria is a closer collaboration between police and prosecutor. What we know works is when a prosecutor has a good, clear case strategy, has a grip of the case and has properly identified the challenges, and when the police are supportive and involved in the investigation. Close collaboration, early investigative advice and support for the victim is what will cut down the timelines and ensure that victims get justice in a swifter way. That is why I am very proud of the section 28 roll-out.

The last time we debated this issue in this Chamber, the Attorney General told me that

“any allegation of domestic abuse or sexual assault on victims is horrendous. On no account does anyone in this Government condone that behaviour.”—[Official Report, 26 May 2022; Vol. 715, c. 414.]

So why did the Attorney General not call for the Prime Minister’s resignation when she found out that he had turned a blind eye to an allegation of sexual assault by one of his own Ministers, but did call for his resignation to launch her bizarre leadership campaign live on TV last night? Does that not just sum up how she has debased the office she holds and put political ambition before the rule of law?

The hon. Gentleman could have asked about domestic abuse victims; he could have asked about RASSO; he could have asked about crime prevention and keeping the British people safe. Instead, he used his opportunity to score cheap political points—[Interruption.]

Order. Front Benchers should not be shouting after asking the question. Let’s get this done and move on.

When it comes to domestic abuse, our landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is strengthening protection for victims and ensuring that perpetrators feel the full force of the law. It includes the first legal definition of domestic abuse, it improves support for victims in the courts, it introduces new offences and it strengthens the legislation precisely for victims of domestic abuse. It is a pity he did not want to talk about that.