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Violence against Women and Girls: Prosecution Rates

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022

1. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (902642)

8. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (902650)

10. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (902653)

The Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls, and we have enacted a multitude of new offences designed to target predatory behaviour and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. That includes stalking, coercive and controlling behaviour and upskirting. Further, in the year ending June 2022, prosecutions for rape offences were 49% higher compared with pre-covid levels.

Lewisham has some of the highest domestic abuse-related crime levels in London and that appears to be increasing. One of the main challenges in capturing accurate pictures of the levels of violence against women and girls in Lewisham is due to under-reporting by victims. A critical issue for my constituents remains the lack of trust in the system, so what are Ministers doing to restore public trust and increase prosecution rates? The low levels of prosecutions cannot continue.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, and she is right that we need to see an increase in prosecution rates. The rape review action plan is looking at three key metrics: referrals, charge volumes and Crown court receipts. In each case, she will be pleased to know that the figures are up and moving in a positive direction. She is also right about the issue in relation to victims, and independent sexual violence advisers will help in that regard.

The commitment to introducing specialist rape courts has not been met. Instead, there is a pilot scheme in just four locations, yet survivors cannot select where their cases are heard. Each day in the UK, there are around 300 rapes, of which around 190 are reported. Of those, only three rapists will see the inside of a courtroom, never mind a prison cell, and the rest will be free to abuse and rape again. Over the Christmas period, the number of rapes rises, so will resources be put in place to ensure that cases reported to the Government’s new 24-hour hotline are actually prosecuted?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning the new hotline. It is right that, overall, prosecutions are up 49% and convictions for rape are up 41%, but she is right in what she says. There are three pilot areas for rape courts, but each and every Crown court can take on rape cases, and I am determined to see prosecutions and convictions rise.

For women who have been raped, the time that that takes to come to court, when it does come to court, is too often long and traumatic. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that the time is shorter for all concerned?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Timeliness is clearly important in ensuring that victims stay with and continue to support prosecutions—she is absolutely right. As for the number of days between police referral and Crown Prosecution Service charge, that has been moving in the right direction and was 29 days faster in the last quarter. However, to strike a note of caution, it is important to ensure that the evidence is right and, on occasions, that can take time.

I acknowledge the progress that the Government are making on this issue, but at the heart of the matter is the lack of referrals from the police to the CPS, especially in rape cases. At present, we have a charge-out rate of around 1.7%, and that has to change.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who brings considerable experience to the Chamber and to the Justice Committee. As he will have heard, charge rates are one of the key metrics. The overall figure is 72.8%. In comparison, the figure for all crime is 78.8%, which is not that far off. He will be pleased to know that, in his local area, the charge rate is increasing.

Although I welcome the absolute increase in the number of rape prosecutions in Essex, the percentage of prosecutions is still pitifully low. What more can the Attorney General do to help excellent police and crime commissioners such as Roger Hirst and Members of Parliament across Essex to improve the situation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for championing his local area, and he is right. One thing that we can do is to support victims, and we are doing that, not least through the ISVAs. When victims have that help and support, they are 49% more likely to stay with the programme and to continue to support and progress through the criminal justice system.

I believe that the Solicitor General is now an old hand at this, but may I welcome the new Attorney General to her place?

As the Solicitor General will know, an estimated one in five women in this country have experienced the daily misery of being stalked and the constant fear that their stalker may one day attack them. In the year ending March 2022, almost 120,000 stalking offences were reported to the police, but less than 6,000 of those reports resulted in a charge. That is a charge rate of just 5%, compared with 7% the year before. Does the Solicitor General think that is good enough?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her warm welcome to me and to the Attorney General. She is right to raise the issue. I would gently point out that stalking was created an offence under this Government; I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for all his work in the area.

The right hon. Lady is right to highlight that prosecution rates and charge rates are not high enough. She will have seen from the action plan that I have referred to that we are determined to see them increase. The Attorney General and I keep a very close eye on the matter.

I appreciate the seriousness with which the Solicitor General approaches these issues but, as he will know, a formal complaint has been submitted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and 20 other members of the National Stalking Consortium, asking for an investigation into the overall handling of stalking cases. Whatever the outcome of that process, may I ask him to take on board the recommendations that the consortium has submitted alongside its complaint and to ensure that, at every level of the criminal justice system, stalking is treated with the seriousness it deserves?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for the tone that she is striking. She is absolutely right to highlight this issue. The Attorney General and I will look at it incredibly closely, of course, and we will do exactly as the right hon. Lady says.

May I also take the opportunity to welcome the Attorney General to her place? A commitment to protecting women and girls should mean protecting all women and girls. Safeguards protecting against gender-based violence must be extended to migrant women. What representations has the Attorney General made to the Home Office to ensure that migrant women are offered the same protections as other women in the UK, and to ratify the Istanbul convention fully and without reservation?

I know that my right hon. Friend the Attorney General will be very grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcome. The Attorney General works incredibly closely with the Home Office on the issue; more broadly, in relation to victims, she works incredibly closely with the Home Office and with the Ministry of Justice. It is not in isolation, but with our three Departments, that we can make progress.