05:23, March 14 261 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-14 05:23:04
Ealing rape victim's family donate £10,000 to legal claim against CPS

The family of Jill Saward, the Ealing rape victim who became a leading figure in the fight against sexual violence, has donated thousands of pounds to a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service.

Saward’s family have donated £10,000 to a crowd justice campaign to fund a legal challenge brought by the End Violence against Women’s Coalition (Evaw), which accuses the CPS of covertly changing its policy and practice on prosecuting rape, and becoming more risk-averse.

Gavin Drake, Saward’s widower, said the family were unanimous in their support of the challenge. “As soon as I read about the case, I knew that this was something that Jill would be supporting if she was still alive,” he said.

The CPS has stated its intention to pursue tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs if a judicial review, where a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision taken by a public body, is not granted on Tuesday at the Royal Courts of Justice, according to legal documents seen by the Guardian.

The director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, argued that Evaw’s proposed proceedings “are not public interest proceedings” - which, if accepted by the judge, could mean costs may not be capped, according to lawyers from the Centre For Women’s Justice, which is representing Evaw.

The women’s groups argue that this money will come in large part from victims of rape who feel they have been failed by the CPS, and have given small donations.

By mid-afternoon on Friday the fund had raised £48,000 towards the legal challenge, but campaigners fear that costs could amount to at least £70,000 if they are not capped at the permission hearing on Tuesday.

The campaign has recevied an increase in donations in recent days, many of them for £10 or £20 and nearly all with messages of support. One donor wrote: “Having been through the system myself and being failed on every level I so wish you every success.” Under the anonymous donation of £10, someone simply wrote: “I never got justice.”

The Saward family pledge comes from donations following the campaigner’s sudden death in January 2017, aged 51. Saward was raped in her home, the Ealing Vicarage, in March 1986 by a gang of burglars when she was 21.

Outcry over her picture being published in the Sun newspaper, and the fact that the defendant who did not take part in the rape received a substantially longer jail sentence for burglary than the two convicted of rape, led to a change in the law, which gave rape victims anonymity and allowed prosecutors to appeal for longer sentences.

“Jill’s treatment was in no way unique,” said Drake. “But the publicity the case received shone a light on the way victims and survivors of sexual assault were treated by the criminal justice system.”

He said while laws had been changed as a result of her case and campaigning work, the criminal justice system had gone backwards in recent years. He pointed to police and CPS figures that revealed in 2019 there were close to 60,000 reports of rape, but fewer than 1,800 charges and fewer than 1,000 convictions. The CPS has previously denied taking a more “risk-averse approach”.

“This situation has to change, and the CPS must be held to account for the appalling conviction rate,” he said. “If the funds being raised are not needed – because the case progresses and is awarded cost protection – all money will go to a rape justice legal fighting fund,” said Sarah Green, the chief executive of Evaw.

“We are deeply honoured to receive this money, collected in Jill’s name and connected to her life’s work of trying to make things better and more just for rape survivors,” she said. “We hope she would be proud of the way we are all continuing her work.”

The CPS said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.