03:53, September 12 129 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-12 03:53:05
Rape prosecutions in England and Wales at lowest level in a decade

Rape charges, prosecutions and convictions in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest levels in more than a decade.

The steep decline comes as the number of rapes recorded by the police has more than doubled over the last six years.

Figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service show convictions fell from 2,635 in 2017-18 to 1,925 in 2018-19, a drop of 26%. The number of prosecutions completed fell from 4,517 to 3,034 (down 32%), and the number of rape cases charged by the CPS fell by 37% to 1,758.

Last year the Guardian reported that prosecutors had been urged to take a more risk-averse approach in rape cases by taking a proportion of “weak cases out of the system”.

The director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, defended the service’s record. He said: “Rape is an awful, sickening offence and I completely understand why the fall in charging rates is so concerning. Partners across the criminal justice system are coming together to look at how these cases are handled and the CPS is playing its part by opening up our charging decisions to further scrutiny.

“I have every confidence in the work of our dedicated prosecutors but it is important that the public has confidence too. I intend to implement any changes which are recommended if they improve our processes and enable the criminal justice system to deliver swifter, more effective justice.”

He said fewer cases were being passed on to the CPS by police. The number of suspects referred by the police to the CPS for a charging decision fell from 4,370 in 2017-18 to 3,375 in 2018-19.

The CPS also blames an increase in the volume of evidence – mostly digital data generated by mobile phones and cameras – for slowing down investigations into allegations of rape. It points to an increase in the number of consultations between police and prosecutors to show that more work is being done on each case.

Victim groups accuse the CPS of altering the way in which they assess the prospects of a successful prosecution by wrongly taking into account the likely response of juries to evidence.

Harriet Wistrich, of the Centre for Women’s Justice, is launching a judicial review challenge against the CPS alleging that the service changed the way it handled cases as far back as 2016.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The test should be a realistic prospect of conviction … not second guessing what the jury will decide. What we are supposed to do is to look at all the evidence objectively.”