There are a number of factors at various stages that are likely to have an impact on conviction rates for rape, but the Crown Prosecution Service is committed to improving the rate by working closely with partners in all police force areas. To provide the consistency of approach that is necessary, networks of violence against women and girls co-ordinators have been established.
CPS national guidance suggests that improvements have been made through the appointment of rape specialist prosecutors. However, their success is entirely dependent on the evidence referred to them in the first place, as one of my constituents, who was raped while away at university, found to her distress. Will the Solicitor General comment on any link between reported offences of rape that are never referred to CPS rape specialist lawyers for a decision to prosecute and the conviction rates for rape in police force areas?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I listened with some concern to the case she cited. I am glad to say that in her area—the north-west—the area rape and serious sexual offences unit has been generating an improvement in the conviction rate, which has gone up by almost 10% in the last year. However, she is right to talk about the earlier stages, and the co-ordination I mentioned is all about early investigative help, which should make the experience for victims better. Experience shows that attrition rates are far too high.
The hon. Lady is right to refer to those regional variations, which are concerning. I am glad to see a strong commitment to a greater national approach to this issue. That is why the setting up of RASSO units in every area is vital. The CPS has recruited a further 102 specialist prosecutors, with a further phase of recruitment due to take place, which will help to drive conviction rates up.
In Northern Ireland, there were more than 28,000 incidents with a domestic motivation in 2014-15, and there were 2,734 sexual offences, including 737 cases of rape. Not only are conviction rates too low across the UK, but the number of incidents is still too high, particularly considering that many victims of domestic violence do not come forward. What steps are the Government taking to reduce the number of offences? Have they considered an education programme for boys and girls in school?
I am grateful, as always, to the hon. Gentleman. I am happy to say that, in England and Wales, the overall number of cases being brought—not just of rape but of associated violence and sexual abuse in a domestic setting—continues to increase, which means justice for thousands more victims year on year.
What steps has the hon. and learned Gentleman taken to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service discusses with the police the type of evidence that needs to be on the file sent to it to secure a conviction? Has he reviewed with the Home Office police forces that are accused of putting too many rape cases in the “no crime” category without investigation?
To answer the hon. Lady’s latter point first, that is obviously an operational matter for the police, but the general principles and policy issues arising from it are important. That is why the Attorney General and I take great interest in the important work of the RASSO units—the specialist prosecutors—that work with the police at an early stage to identify the sort of evidence that is needed to secure convictions. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that point.