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Violence against Women and Girls

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 25 May 2023

2. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (905105)

5. What steps she is taking to increase the proportion of cases relating to violence against women and girls that are prosecuted. (905109)

Tackling violence against women and girls remains one of the Government’s top priorities. We are doing everything possible to make our streets and homes safer for women and girls. Since the launch of the joint action plan, we have seen a significant increase in charge volumes for adult rape since January 2021.

More than one in nine rape prosecutions were dropped last year because victims withdrew their support, crushed by what can be a three-year wait for their day in court and the humiliation of victim blaming. Will the Attorney General fix those problems and accept the joint inspectorate’s conclusions that the system is obviously failing rape victims when many of them find the legal process overlong and more harrowing than the original offence?

I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in this matter; it is something she and I discussed for many years as colleagues on the Justice Committee. We know it is important that justice is given as speedily as possible. Digging into the attrition of victims, particularly in rape cases, is very salutary. It is one reason why the Government have increased the money available to support victims fourfold in recent times. On the law tour next week, which the Solicitor General referred to, we will be visiting an independent sexual violence adviser in Nottingham. We know that, where a victim has support, they are 50% less likely to withdraw from proceedings.

I have heard from many women in my constituency who have been victims of domestic violence and abuse. They have reported it to the police but they are still not getting the support or the justice that they deserve. Rather than offering warm words, can the Attorney General explain why the number of charges for domestic abuse and violence has not just failed to keep pace with the rise in reported offences but has gone so dramatically backwards?

I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in this matter as well. Far more than warm words are being provided by the Government. We have been working very closely on real joint work between the CPS and the police. We know that that has significantly increased the number of successful prosecutions in rape and serious sexual offence cases. We are now rolling out a similar but not identical form of working in domestic abuse cases. She will be pleased to know that, in her CPS area, the volume of adult rape suspects charged has gone up 41% in the last year.

Does the Attorney General agree that it is important to remember that, where there is sufficient evidence to put a case before a jury, the conviction rate for rape and serious sexual offences is entirely consistent and on a par with that for other serious violent offences? Is not the real challenge to ensure that the quality of the evidence presented by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service is sufficient to bring charges in the first place? That was the issue highlighted in the joint inspection report. Is not that where we should be paying the most attention?

Well, this is a Justice Committee alumni session and it is always good to hear from our Chair. He makes, as we would all expect, an important point. It is true that the CPS can prosecute only the cases that are referred to it. It then works out which ones to prosecute using a two-stage legal test. If we strip out the guilty pleas, the CPS is running at a conviction rate of between 50% and 60%. It always prosecutes where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.

The Attorney General has been discussing rape prosecution statistics. National World reported last month that there have been 1,600 cases over the past five years in which a suspect accused of and investigated for rape ended up being charged with a lesser offence. We all know that that type of under-charging is not uncommon, but the allegation in National World was that those 1,600 cases were then counted towards the charge rate for rape, even though no one had been charged with a rape offence. Can the Attorney General tell us whether that is true and, if so, does it mean that the charge rate for rape is even lower than we currently think?

I, too, saw that report, and I asked for further clarification of the material within it. I have been told that, for a force to have charged an alternative offence, the facts and the evidence must be extremely similar and must relate to the victim and the circumstances. I have also been told—although I have not dug into every single one of those cases—that some of the reporting that the right hon. Lady refers to may relate to historic sexual abuse and that may explain some of the figures.