"We have to seize this moment if we are to escape this crisis on our justice system," says Victims' Commissioner, as she warns the government has a "mountain to climb" to restore victim confidence in the justice system.
Thousands of rape victims have been denied justice because of failings by police and prosecutors, the government has admitted, as it published its long-awaited end-to-end rape review.
The Government has apologised for “failing” rape survivors and has set out plans for a “system and culture change” after a review found conviction levels had plunged in recent years. Ministers have apologised unreservedly to rape victims, saying they are “deeply ashamed” that thousands of survivors have been failed on the government’s watch, as they pledged an overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Following the two-year review of how rape prosecutions are handled through the criminal justice system, the government has unveiled reforms it says will increase the number of cases going to court.
Responding to the publication of the government’s end-to-end rape review and its associated action plan, the Victims’ Commissioner said it was right that ministers had “voiced their shame” and resolved to reverse the downward trend in prosecutions, but added “there was no hiding that this review presents some missed opportunities.”
The Victims’ Commissioner for England for Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, says:
“Victims of rape and serious sexual offences have been comprehensively failed by the criminal justice system over the past five years. There is no escaping the numbers: we have seen a seismic collapse in rape charging and prosecutions. This is a serious and long-running crisis.
“So, I welcome that Ministers have today rightly voiced their shame at this abysmal record and resolved to reverse this downward trend. This is important. Even so, there is no hiding that this review presents some missed opportunities.
“I welcome and support those proposals likely to make a difference. That includes innovations like Project Soteria, which shifts police investigative focus away from the credibility of the complainant and towards the behaviour of the suspect – though not before time. The pilot has shown real potential to be transformative and to radically improve victims’ experiences and the academics who helped to shape it will also scrutinise its development. My concern is that there is only funding for one year’s rollout to a wider range of forces. However, the Lord Chancellor assures me that all criminal justice ministers will be pressing for it to be fully funded in the Spending Review. I will be holding them to that.
“Accompanied by the right level of independent external scrutiny and accountability, ministers’ plans to have performance ‘scorecards’ across the whole justice system could also drive much needed changes – particularly in the CPS, who have a dismal track record in rape. However, the ‘scorecards’ will have to be shaped with great care so that justice is protected. I am pleased that the Lord Chancellor has committed to the involvement of the Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner on an external scrutiny panel, alongside representatives from the criminal justice and sexual assault sectors.
“We know that the government has a mountain to climb if it is to restore victims’ confidence in the justice system. So, it is disheartening that truly transformative policies, such as the pre-recording of video evidence of intimidated witnesses (Section 28), are to be put off yet again by further consultation, piloting or general delay. Similarly, when concerns around digital disclosure deter so many victims from engaging with the criminal justice system, it is disappointing to see a lack of urgency around the provision of independent legal advice to tackle well documented instances of excessive and undue data requests by police and prosecutors. There also remain serious concerns around clauses in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will give carte blanche to wholesale phone data downloads.
“While the government’s ‘Action Plan’ undoubtedly has serious limitations, we have to seize this moment if we are to escape this crisis on our justice system. I truly hope this review will help drive us forwards and I will be pushing ministers all the way to deliver justice for victims of rape and sexual assault.”