The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a uniquely dangerous time for those subjected to domestic abuse and rape, and it is vital that they can access the justice they deserve.
Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service published data showing that from April to June 2020 we saw a 39% drop in prosecutions for domestic abuse cases, and a 55% drop in prosecutions for rape cases, compared to the first three months of the year. This is unsurprising, given huge reductions in court capacity during the first few months of lockdown.
More encouragingly, there was an increase in police referrals to the CPS during the same period. Domestic abuse referrals increased by 8%, rape referrals increased by 15%. This shows that police were responding to and investigating domestic abuse and rape during the lockdown.
While this doesn’t mirror the huge surge in demand for national domestic abuse helplines, it does demonstrate that police were continuing to attend domestic abuse calls and investigate cases during the height of lockdown restrictions.
It is concerning that, despite recent increases in police referrals, the volume of suspects charged fell by 3% across the same period for both domestic abuse and rape cases. It is important that we are able to understand what has led to this disparity and ensure that delays in charging decisions do not further exacerbate the time taken to prosecute.
Taken together, this shows how vital it is that the courts increase capacity as quickly and effectively as possible, and prevent an overwhelming backlog of cases. Further delays to court cases can be devastating to victims and survivors, and we call on the Government to prioritise vulnerable victims and victims of domestic abuse as courts reopen.
The criminal justice system plays a critical role in our national response to domestic abuse and rape, and there is much more to do if we are to give victims and survivors the confidence to come forward.