Crown Prosecution Service data, issued yesterday, shows a further fall in the number of charges for rape despite police referring more cases to them.

In the first quarter of the business year 2020-21 (April to June), CPS received 856 rape cases from police forces seeking a charging decision. This is up 112 on the previous quarter (January to March). Yet prosecutors decided to charge in just 487 cases, 3% fewer than the number charged last quarter when fewer cases were sent.

Since 2017, there has been a collapse in rape charging by the CPS, and this was brought about by their policy decision, promoted at senior level, nationwide that year, to improve the conviction rate by declining to charge ‘weaker cases’. The National Police Chiefs Council has confirmed that ‘it is becoming harder to achieve the standard of evidence required to charge a suspect and get the case to court’.

For almost a decade before this change in direction, the CPS charged more than 3000 cases per year and in line with this, in the year ending March 2017, 3671 cases were charged. The following year, ending March 2018, the figure fell to 2822. In March 2019 it further fell to 1758 and in March 2020 it was 1867. Overall, this represents a 49% cut in charging across this short period of time.

The result is that in 2019/20 we saw the lowest number of rape convictions ever recorded, whilst complaints of rape to the police soared to 55,130. Only 1.4% of cases reported to the police resulted in a charge by CPS.

Dame Vera Baird said:

“At various times CPS have sought to blame the fall in police referrals as the reason for the reduction in the number of rape charges. The figures show that police referrals also dropped but only after the CPS took up this position of not charging any case which fell short of a very high probability of conviction. Inevitably, this increased threshold has discouraged the police from making referrals. It is a tribute to the police that they have started to send cases through in increasing numbers again, presumably intending to press the CPS back to a proper level of charging rather than being discouraged by them. I hope police efforts bear fruit.

“Thousands of rape complainants are not getting justice and repeated calls for CPS to return to a merits-based approach to charging have so far been disregarded.”

Vera Baird QC