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Rape Trials

Volume 818: debated on Tuesday 25 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the proportion of rape allegations that go to trial.

My Lords, the rape review action plan has committed to transforming the criminal justice system to tackle systemic failures on rape. In that, we demonstrate our commitment to transparency and public accountability throughout. Our aims are to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, to increase the numbers of victims who stay engaged in the process and to build better and stronger cases so that more people are charged and, ultimately, more rapists go to prison.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I will just remind the House how appalling the statistics are: only 1.6% of reported rape allegations result in a court case. As the Minister said, the Government’s response has been to put in place the rape review action plan. On 22 January the CPS published its latest statistics regarding the handling of rape. Five categories of data were published; they showed either a flatlining of the data or a modest improvement. Is the Minister happy with that improvement, or does he think he should put in place some targets?

My Lords, I acknowledge the data that the noble Lord has placed before the House. I suggest that it is not so much a matter of imposing targets as one of following through on the Government’s approach, which will see an increase in spending over the lifetime of this Parliament and involve more special training for police officers and prosecutors in this area. Finally, although, as I have said, I acknowledge the statistics that the noble Lord has placed before your Lordships, it is important to recognise that the data is necessarily retrospective and relates to times before the Government’s actions, as set out in the action plan, commenced.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that, in the Attorney-General’s regular meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions, she will hold the director to account for the chilling effect of recent changes in CPS charging guidance in relation to rape? Surely it is in the hands of the DPP that the awful statistics can be improved and victims given a proper hearing.

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I remind the House that, of course, as the noble Lord is well aware, we are dealing not simply with the role of government but with necessarily independent bodies, upon which our constitution relies—it relies on the independence of the judiciary and of prosecutors—but I can give the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks.

My Lords, the End Violence Against Women Coalition reported that, as a result of funding cuts in recent years, two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales no longer have a specialist rape and serious sexual offences unit, thereby losing vital expertise in investigating and prosecuting sexual violence. At a time when rape prosecutions remain at their lowest level on record and rape survivors face some of the longest delays to their cases reaching trial of any victims of crime, are the Government serious about prioritising tackling sexual violence against women and girls?

My Lords, this Government are indeed serious about addressing the matters that the noble Baroness has placed before the House. I am able to give the noble Baroness some assurances in relation to figures. We are on track to recruit a further 20,000 police officers by the end of this Parliament. Over 100 prosecutors have undertaken induction training on rape and serious sexual offences—RASSO as it is known—while 674 prosecutors have been trained in a suspect-centred approach; that means focusing the investigation on the suspect and shifting away from the idea that it is the function of the police somehow to challenge the complainer’s account of events. Furthermore, by the end of this financial year, 176 prosecutors will have been trained and skilled in the assessment of the impact of trauma on memory. All these measures will enhance the ability of the system to address these extremely serious crimes.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging the issue of resources in relation to sexual offences, in particular, and for the other commitments that he has made, but does he agree that the culture of misogyny in our police service is leading women not to have the confidence they need to come forward? I refer noble Lords to reporting overnight of the case of the Nottingham academic who was strip-searched in police custody in circumstances that can be described only as a sexual assault.

My Lords, the expression “misogyny”, and the extent, meaning and parameters of that expression, are currently under consideration. Beyond that I do not intend to provide any further answer.

My Lords, what are the chances of investigating and prosecuting serious sexual offences when 70% of victims are regarded at the time of the attack as vulnerable, sometimes due to alcohol and sometimes to age or mental illness? This means that the prosecution decisions can be quite difficult when the account of the victim is regarded as inconsistent. We never know how juries accept their evidence, and we never have any research into how juries reach their verdicts. I wonder whether this area is something on which the Government would consider instigating proper research to find out what it is that influences a jury. It is not always the things that we believe make a difference.

I can tell the House that there is work currently under way by the Law Commission to address misconceptions in this field. The expression often used is “rape myths”, although I am not sure that I am especially fond of that. I think “misconceptions” better addresses and refers to the topic raised by the noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that modern technology has, ironically, made rape a more difficult crime to investigate because it depends on victims having confidence in the process? Many young women are not prepared to allow their cell phones to be seized and trawled through for months on end by the police. What are the Government doing to address this dilemma without compromising justice?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely important point. In relation to the end-to-end review and action plan, which the Government have published, we have set up a means by which people coming forward with complaints of rape can be confident that they will receive mobile telephones, so they will not be deprived of their use or their contacts and data. At the same time, we will be doing our best to strengthen the investigation of crimes so that complainers do not feel that their personal lives are being unduly pried into or that their rights to privacy are disturbed.

My Lords, would the Minister like to have another go at answering the question put to him by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, leaving aside the question of misogyny but answering the question about culture?

The culture of the police is an extremely broad topic. I regret if I seemed to have ducked the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but these are extremely wide issues, which lie beyond the remit of my ability to answer today.