Victims’ Commissioner responds as the EVAW Coalition shares the evidence gathered as part of its Judicial Review of the Crown Prosecution Service with the Government’s ‘end to end’ Rape Review

Among the papers disclosed by the End Violence Against Women Coalition today (30 June), from the Judicial Review of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) currently going to appeal, are some deeply damaging documents for the current leadership of the CPS.

CPS statistics show that in 2013-14 the organisation charged 3,621 rape suspects. 61.9% of all charging decisions were decisions to prosecute, the highest charge rate on record. In 2015-16, 3,910 suspects were charged with rape, the highest number of rape charges on record. In contrast, in 2017-18 only 2,822 suspects were charged, and only 46.9% of all charging decisions were decisions to prosecute, a fall of 23%.

In the CPS Violence Against Women and Girls’ (VAWG) report in 2019, the figures are even worse. The number of charges is reported as 1,758, representing a sharp fall of 37.7%. This is the lowest figure on record. The proportion of suspects charged was 34.4%, the lowest figure on record.

This year’s figures are expected to be even worse.

The statement of “XX” – a CPS ‘whistle-blower’ – sets out how the CPS moved away from a merit-based approach to prosecuting rape.

Under that approach, the CPS had charged cases on their merits, quite rightly, even if some of them presented a challenge.

Each successful or unsuccessful charge taught CPS more about how to continuously improve the outcomes in rape cases, which are always difficult. That approach led to prosecutions and convictions increasing simultaneously to an all-time high and to justice for more complainants and a potentially deterrent effect on this appalling crime

Since a series of roadshows conducted by the DPP’s legal advisor from autumn 2016 throughout 2017, the merits-based approach has disappeared from CPS documents and training, apparently to be informally replaced by what the court of appeal has called the “bookmakers’ approach”.

In practice, this suggests taking into account the harmful myths and stereotypes which can affect juries’ verdicts to work out whether is the case a safe bet for a conviction.

Such an approach has been frowned on by the Court of Appeal for many years. It has led to this significant drop in prosecutions.

What we are left with is just 1,754 charges last year, during which there were more than 58,000 complaints of rape.

Despite powerful evidence, the CPS continues to deny a change of policy.

Also published today is expert analysis from the judicial review by statistician Professor Abigail Adam from Oxford University, stating concretely that there are no other explanations for the catastrophic drop in prosecutions and convictions, save a change in policy and expressly rejecting every reason the CPS put forward to account for the change.

Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said: “The collapse in rape prosecutions is of overwhelming public importance.

“It has no doubt triggered a fall in public confidence in CPS and in the criminal justice system alike.

“Some police officers say they now refer fewer cases to the CPS because they know such a small number will be taken forward for prosecution.

“This downward spiral is leaving thousands unprotected and has given rise to the strong argument that rape has now been decriminalised,” she said.

Continuing: “The fact that this catastrophic fall in prosecutions can be allowed to happen against a backdrop of constant denials of any change in policy and practice and thus with no proposals for improvement raises serious questions as to the accountability of the Crown Prosecution Service to the public it is meant to serve.

“If the CPS is unable or unwilling to address the reasons behind the unacceptable fall in prosecutions, then it is time for the government to step in and act,” Dame Vera concluded.