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Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2023

9. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (903708)

The hon. Lady raises a hugely important issue. It is completely unacceptable that women and girls continue to be subject to violence and to the horrendous crimes that constitute VAWG—violence against women and girls. That is why, on top of the significant measures already taken by the Government, the Home Secretary yesterday announced a range of additional steps, including adding the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders to the violent and sex offender register. Much has already been done, but it is right that the Government remain focused on doing more and on continuing our reforms in this area, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect.

Fewer than one in 50 recorded rapes results in a charge and it takes two years on average for a rape case to come to court. I hope the Minister will congratulate Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, on introducing independent sexual violence champions to support victims in their journey through the criminal justice system in the face of the massive failure of his Government, which is retraumatising victims. Will he agree to the immediate roll-out of specialist rape courts to prioritise rape victims, to which Labour is committed?

I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating her local police and crime commissioner on her work on this hugely important issue. I would highlight the significant progress that has been made under this Government. The number of reports to the police of rape and serious sexual offences is going up, the number of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for charge is going up, and the number of Crown court receipts is going up. Those are all significant signs of progress, but there is more to do.

On the hon. Lady’s point about courts, she will be aware that three courts—Snaresbrook, Leeds and Newcastle—are piloting additional measures on these issues. Those pilots are in their relatively early months and it would be wrong to prejudge them, but I continue to follow the progress of those courts with specialist measures with care.

The Minister is right to emphasise the importance of bearing down on these dreadful offences. Has he seen the research published this week in the Criminal Law Review based on the largest ever dataset of Crown court cases, which suggests that convictions for rape have risen markedly since 2018 and now stand at 75%, against an increase in charging as well, and that the conviction rate for rape and serious sexual offences is now higher than for other offences of violence against the person? That is important information. That work was carried out by Professor Cheryl Thomas, who is regarded as the leading academic expert on juries, using the largest ever dataset. Does the Minister agree that we should take that into account when we consider how best to take forward our policies to bear down on these serious offences—using up-to-date information to adjust our policies?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I confess that while I am aware of the Criminal Law Review article, I have yet to read it in full. I will certainly do so, given his strong recommendation. He is right to highlight what it says, which is that significant progress has been made, and that it is important to base our debates on this hugely emotive and important subject on evidence. A lot has been achieved, but there is still more to do.

Two years on from the Government’s end-to-end rape review, rape allegations leading to a charge or summons stand at 1.6%, rape victims are waiting 1,113 days for their case to get to court, and only 2,500 rape prosecutions were completed last year—half the level of 2016. Is this not a Government who are letting rapists off and letting victims down?

I debate these matters regularly with the hon. Lady, but I have to say to her, as I have said to other hon. Members, that while there is still more to do, there has been considerable progress under this Government. The number of people convicted of an adult rape offence went up by 65% over the past year; compared to pre-pandemic levels, convictions are up by 41%. That is significant progress, but of course there is more to do. That is why the Government are supporting the roll-out of Operation Soteria, quadrupling funding for victim and witness support services, and increasing the number of independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers by 300, to over 1,000. Those are just some examples of the measures the Government are taking. There is no complacency here—just a strong track record of work and delivery.