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Rape and Sexual Assault: Prosecutions

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 10 December 2020

What steps she has taken to increase the number of prosecutions relating to rape and sexual assault. (910027)

Tackling rape is a priority for this Government, and £3 million has been awarded to the CPS in this year’s spending review specifically for rape and serious sexual offence work. This year the CPS published its own rape strategy, “Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) 2025”, and has updated rape legal guidance and training for specialist prosecutors. The CPS is also engaging stakeholders on a joint action plan on rape, with the police, aimed at improving joint working, launching in 2021.

I can rehearse the figures, as indeed the Attorney General can, on declining rates of prosecution for rape and sexual violence. The Victims Commissioner, Vera Baird, found that only one in seven victims believes they will get any form of justice through our criminal justice system. Does the Attorney General agree that if rape is not to be a de facto matter of impunity for the attacker, we must have the rape review published as soon as possible, and that we have to see urgent action to begin to bring these catastrophic and scandalous numbers down and to give confidence to victims that they will actually get justice?

The hon. Gentleman is, with respect, wrong to suggest that perpetrators of rape can behave with immunity—I think that was the word he used. There is a real priority shared throughout Government to bear down on the low rates of prosecutions and convictions in this area. Following the publishing of the shadow rape review, the Government have decided to delay publication of the end-to-end rape review until 2021, so that we can ensure proper engagement with the views and perspectives of stakeholders. That will allow us to assess other recently published findings, including the survey of victims of rape undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner. That is important work, and we want to get it right.

Rape prosecutions are at their lowest level on record, and the recent survey of survivors found that just 14% believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime. Does the Attorney General agree that violence against women is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights, and does she therefore think that instead of announcing unnecessary consultations on the Human Rights Act 1998, which is there to protect victims and the public, the Government should instead focus on addressing the complete and systematic failures of the current criminal justice system?

The decline in criminal justice outcomes for rape is a cause of deep concern for us all, and although the increased charge rates in 2019-20 and in quarter 1 of 2020-21 have led to increases in the volume of cases proceeding to prosecution following charge, there is clearly more to be done.

The decline in this issue is complex and cross-system. It is why the Government have commissioned an end-to-end rape review, which, as I said, is due to publish next year. The CPS is proactive in making improvements, including the publication of its strategy, which deals head-on with trying to support victims and to address the concerns expressed in the 2019 inspectorate report. It has also published updated rape legal guidance for public consultation. That is the way to get it right, so that we can inject long-term benefits and change in the system.