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Prosecution Rates for Rape and Sexual Assault: South-west England

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

3. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve prosecution rates of rape and sexual assault cases in the south-west. (901759)

His Majesty’s Government are committed to improving rape prosecutions and are investing across the justice system. Through Operation Soteria, prosecutors across the south-west have helped to lead the way with a focus on joint working with the police and on early advice, and an enhanced service to victims.

Last week, Devon and Cornwall police were placed into special measures because of their failure to record crime and manage sexual offenders. Fewer than 20 people were convicted of rape in Devon and Cornwall out of 1,500 recorded offences last year. People are losing faith in the CPS and the police. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to extend the sexual offences backlog pilot from London and the north to include the south-west, with a clear focus on reducing the 1,000-day wait for rape victims to get justice in court?

Not least because I am a south-west MP, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. Work is already under way: I mentioned Operation Soteria in the south-west. Specifically in his Plymouth constituency, I know that work is going on with the violence against women and girls commission; I have seen that work and I commend the commissioners for it. There is also a conference happening in the next few weeks and I ask him to keep me updated.

More broadly, on the hon. Gentleman’s substantive question, referrals from the police to the CPS are up for offences of rape, charges are up and prosecutions are up. I am determined that that positive work and positive trend must continue.

In North Devon, I am repeatedly told by police that the CPS requires too much information before it can decide whether to prosecute, that there are many outstanding rape cases and that the delays that victims endure result in some feeling unable to wait the months or even years for cases to progress. Can I meet my hon. Friend to see what can be done to unblock the situation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. She is right that the workload on our police and the CPS is high. Close working between the police and the CPS is vital. Hot off the press is the refreshed joint national action plan, which was published today and shows that the CPS has seen a 58% increase in charges. I know that she takes the issue incredibly seriously. I would be delighted to meet her, whether here or in her beautiful constituency of North Devon.