I engage with the Director of Public Prosecutions regularly on criminal justice issues, including rape and serious sexual offences. Both the director and I recognise the devastating impact that those horrific crimes have on victims. I met with the director only a week or two ago and again this week. The Crown Prosecution Service and my office have worked closely with criminal justice partners in the ongoing Government review of the response to rape and serious sexual offences.
What reason did the Director of Public Prosecutions give for the dreadful 51% drop in CPS prosecutions in these cases since 2014?
I am disappointed by the figures that the hon. Lady refers to and I appreciate that they are a cause for concern. However, I would emphasise that they are not indicative of a lack of commitment to prosecute by the Crown Prosecution Service, any of its prosecutors or the Director of Public Prosecutions. We believe that a number of factors have contributed to this. They include perhaps a fall in the volume of referrals from the police and an increase in the volume of digital data. We are looking at the situation closely and a review is under way.
There have been reports that the number of reported rapes, sexual assaults and harassment allegations in universities has trebled in the last three years, including worrying reports that universities are trying to carry out their own investigations of the assaults. What role does the Minister think that his Department can play in trying to ensure that those allegations are taken seriously and go through the proper judicial channels?
I have also heard about the increased statistics from universities, and I urge them to look carefully at how they handle those matters. It is a particularly sensitive issue which they should handle with professional assistance. The reality is that we must do everything we can to deal with those allegations immediately, sympathetically and appropriately in all the circumstances. They are devastating allegations and must be dealt with sympathetically and appropriately by universities and by everyone else.
I am alarmed to hear that police forces across the country are demanding highly personal records and data, including health, school and college records and even counselling notes, from potential rape victims before pressing ahead with their cases. Campaigners have long warned that victims will be put off going to the police by that intrusion into their lives. Can the Solicitor General outline what he is doing to combat that?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We want victims to have the confidence to come forward and report crimes. I do not want to see anything that disincentivises victims from making proper reports of crimes. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service continue to work with victims groups that specialise in this area, and with the Information Commissioner’s Office when it comes to digital disclosure, to ensure that their approach achieves the necessary balance between the requirement of reasonable lines of inquiry and the victim’s privacy.