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Victims’ Commissioner responds to the Court of Appeal judgement

Dame Vera Baird responds to the judgement in the judicial review of the prosecution of rape and serious sexual offences and calls for the government's end-to-end rape review to now deliver "deep and meaningful change".

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service over its policy on prosecuting serious sexual offences. The court ruled on Monday 15 March that the CPS had not changed its policy in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences.

Responding to the news, Dame Vera Baird said the judgement would be met by “huge disappointment” and said, “we must now see an urgent escalation of rape up the political agenda.”

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“This Court of Appeal judgement will be met by huge disappointment by so many up and down the country, not least the thousands of survivors who personally felt compelled to crowdfund this legal challenge.

“EVAW and the Centre for Women’s Justice recorded almost 4,000 individual donations, many of them from women who had themselves been let down by the criminal justice system. We have reached a dismal state of affairs when so many rape survivors feel the need to crowdfund for justice – justice many feel they were denied and justice they want future women to receive.

“Rape has long been an under-policed and under-prosecuted crime, but over the past five years, we have witnessed a seismic and catastrophic collapse in rape prosecutions. The consequences for victims have been dire. Cases have been dropped as rape myths and stereotypes have gone unchallenged and rape victims have been made to feel like they are the ones on trial, with their credibility repeatedly questioned and undermined.

“But how did we get here? We know that in 2016, senior figures at the CPS stated an ambition to reach a conviction rate of 60%. Rape prosecutors were told this could be achieved by taking 350 ‘weaker’ cases out of the system i.e. by not charging them. CPS units were made aware via training roadshows that they were to be assessed against this ratio.

“Within a year of this move about a thousand fewer rape cases were being prosecuted, despite the rate of referrals from the police remaining consistent. From prosecuting at least 3,500 cases per year in 2014/15 to 2016/17, the total collapsed to approximately just 1,800 cases in 2018/19 – out of over 55,000 reported incidents.

“Campaigners assert that this drop in prosecutions was a direct consequence of the actions of senior CPS leaders. Indeed, this consequence was even foreseen as a risk by the CPS, who stated at the outset that setting a target to increase the prosecution rate could introduce a ‘perverse incentive’ to charge only those cases with a relatively high chance of conviction – and hence fewer of them.

“But having seen this precipitous drop in charges, and acknowledged the ‘perverse incentive’ at play, why didn’t the CPS then seek to put this right? Having seen that they had performed an ‘oversteer’, with a dramatic, near-overnight impact, why didn’t the CPS then seek to correct that oversteer? We must not lose sight of the fact that the prosecution rate today is lower than it has ever been, and it has been near this level since 2017/18. The CPS must now put this right.

“The collective outpouring of grief and rage that we saw over the weekend was, in part, due to a widespread fear of rape and sexual assault. This Court of Appeal judgement will do nothing to allay those fears and nothing to abate that anger.

“We know that we have a mountain to climb if we are to restore rape victims’ confidence in the justice system. The events of the past week have only served to underline the challenge before us. Last year, I warned that we were witnessing the effective decriminalisation of rape. I said if the CPS is unwilling or unable to deal with this failure to prosecute rape, then the government must act. I stand by these comments.

“The time for half-measures is over. We must now see an urgent escalation of rape up the political agenda. This starts with the government’s end-to-end rape review, which must deliver deep and meaningful change.”