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Record number of reported rapes means modest CPS progress is not enough

Image of a crime scene and police tape.

Victims' Commissioner challenges new Prime Minister to commit to deliver on the government's rape review.

The latest quarterly performance statistics published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) show a steady increase in the number of rape convictions.

Yet over the same period there has been a huge increase in the number of recorded rapes – surging to the highest number to be recorded in a year. 70,330 rapes were recorded by the police in the year ending March 2021. Sexual assault recorded by the police also increased by 32% to 194, 638.

In June 2021, the government published its long-awaited end-to-end rape review, which set out clear failings in how rape is investigated and prosecuted. In their apologies to victims that followed, Ministers promised “to do everything possible” to reverse the downward trends and build back victim confidence in the system. The stated ambition was to return volumes of cases referred by police, charged and going to court to 2016/17 levels by the end of the Parliament.

As the below table exemplifies, the CPS remains some way off that target.

2016/172020/21Year to end 31/12/21% difference to 2016/17
Pre-charge receipts from the police4,5953,5393,772-18%
Pre-charge legal decisions: charged3,6711,9552,109-43%
Total completed prosecutions5,1901,5572,409-54%
Pending Response – Further Investigation7611,2441,395+83%

Timeliness is also getting worse. Both the time taken to charge and the time to prosecution have increased over the past year. The average length of time from when the case is received from the police to charging has increased by 15.75 days to 170.83 days. Timeliness of prosecutions has also increased by 94.19 days (27%) – or 3 months – to 437.56 days.

Responding to the data release, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“On the key measure – returning charging and prosecutions to 2016/17 levels – we remain some considerable distance from Ministers’ targets. The gulf between 2016/17 and today’s data remains and is closing far too slowly. Charging volumes are increasing steadily, but compared to the record numbers reporting, we might actually be going backwards as a proportion.

“With the volumes of reported rapes increasing to record highs year-on-year, you have to wonder whether the original ambitions of the rape review are even appropriate today, especially given the proportions of reported incidents now dwarf those of 2016/17 by over 28,00 – an increase of 67%. Should the government reach its target by the end of the Parliament – and it remains to be seen if it can – is that a “good” result for victims, when we face proportionally far higher volumes of reported rapes?

“Victims across the board face years of unacceptable delay, and rape victims, as is so often the case, are at the back of the queue. Before the latest industrial action by the Criminal Bar, the Crown Court case backlog stood at over 59,000 – an extraordinary sum. The latest figures reveal that both the time taken to charge and the time to prosecution have grown astronomically. It now takes 437 days on average to complete a prosecution. That is up by an absurd and outrageous 3 months in the space of just one year. We are reaching inhumane levels of delay.

“Since the publication of the rape review, progress has been slow. Yet we might just be witnessing the early signs of a recovery. However, in short order we face the destabilising prospect of a new Prime Minister, a new government and a new cabinet. Will the next government also commit to driving up rape prosecutions? Regardless of who it is that moves into Downing Street in September, it is of paramount importance that the rape review’s action plan is delivered – and delivered in full.”

Editors’ notes:

  • The figures listed are recorded figures only. Crime Survey of England and Wales report no statistical change in the number of people being a victim of sexual assault annually.