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CPS leaders welcome final findings of academic report into prosecution of rape

|News, Sexual offences

CPS leaders have welcomed the final findings of an academic report looking into the organisation’s handling of the prosecution of rape.

The CPS invited an independent academic team from the University of Warwick to evaluate the design and impact of activities piloted under Operation Soteria – the work to overhaul the prosecution and handling of rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases.

The interim findings, delivered by Professor Vanessa Munro to the CPS in April 2023, have been vital in informing and strengthening the CPS national operating model for the prosecution of adult rape, rolled out nationally in July 2023.

The final report, published today, concludes that the new operating model, now rolled out to all CPS Areas, builds effectively on many of the key insights of Operation Soteria initiatives and makes commendable commitments to ensuring they are part of a consistent national approach.

Though the research has not collected data on the implementation of the new operating model since its launch in July 2023, it concludes - based on analysis of Operation Soteria pilots - that many of the measures contained in the model can bring a real improvement in our handling of rape cases.

This includes, in particular, the benefits of police and CPS speaking at an early stage in investigations, dedicated RASSO victim liaison officers, the use of multi-agency scrutiny panels to look in detail at both charged and uncharged cases, and dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) mailboxes to increase and improve the quality of communication with these third sector advocates.

The final report highlights that the ambition of Operation Soteria was unprecedented, but the CPS has more to do to embed the national operating model effectively and sustainably.

It also warns there are areas where potential ‘slippage’ in implementation should be guarded against, including in relation to reviewing lawyers’ increased presence in courtrooms, victim communication obligations, and a need for a future focus on strong leadership and shifts in organisational culture.

Since the launch of the national operating model, the CPS has hired RASSO-specific victim liaison officers in all its Areas, to be in post by May 2024, and trained 196 specialist RASSO prosecutors in harmful rape assumptions and misconceptions.

As part of wider work to improve the handling of these cases, the CPS also commissioned charity Equally Ours to carry out analysis of the public understanding of rape and serious sexual offences, and the law on consent, reflecting the changing nature of sexual behaviours. It was the largest survey of its kind in five years.

Those findings published in January 2024 - that false beliefs about rape and understanding of consent were still common, especially among young people - have been used to continue to support prosecutors’ understanding, and to help them identify and call out false beliefs when they are presented in RASSO cases.

Baljit Ubhey, CPS Director of Strategy and Policy, said: “The research of Professor Vanessa Munro and her team has been vital in informing our national operating model and training of specialist prosecutors as the CPS moves forward in our journey to transforming how we prosecute rape cases and support victims. We thank her again for her report.

“We can see the work we have been doing jointly with police is having a tangible impact but we still have a long way to go to drive that lasting change. Continued challenge and scrutiny from stakeholders will be integral to that progress.”

Professor Vanessa Munro, who led the University of Warwick team said, “This independent research into the design, operation, and impact of Operation Soteria pilots across CPS pathfinder areas has provided a rare, but vital, opportunity to scrutinise the handling of rape complaints and complainants by RASSO units.

“The report has also highlighted areas where further efforts are required, if the ambitions driving Soteria, and the Government’s wider Rape Review, are to be achieved. These include in relation to myths and stereotypes in decision-making, communication with victims, collaboration with counsel, reviewing lawyers’ presence in the courtroom, and staff wellbeing.

“We are grateful to colleagues across the CPS, policing, criminal bar, judiciary and third sector who have supported, and contributed to, the research in different ways, and hope that the findings will be of value to them all in their efforts to improve rape justice.”

You can also download this summary and the full report from the University of Warwick website (external link)

Notes to editors

  • The University of Warwick research began in July 2022. The work evaluated the design and operation of activities undertaken during Operation Soteria within the CPS, exploring the extent to which activities had been, or were likely to be, successful in achieving change.
  • We are committed to ensuring a move away from RASSO assumptions and misconceptions, which can involve false understanding of how both suspects and victims behave, and instead reflect a suspect-centric approach, also recognising the complexity of victim responses.
  • We will update our RASSO prosecution guidance to reflect the outcome of both the University of Warwick and Equally Ours research. The refreshed guidance will include reframing common harmful rape misconceptions, their implications, and how prosecutors can address them.
  • Clear, up-to-date guidance is crucial to helping our specialist prosecutors make fair and effective decisions and ensuring justice is delivered in every case for victims and alleged perpetrators.
  • We have also updated our training for prosecutors and advocates on how to challenge harmful assumptions and misconceptions.
  • In the last published quarter (covering the July-September 2023 period), our management data showed there was another increase in the number of suspects charged in adult rape-flagged cases (from 599 in Q1 23/24 to 668 in Q2 23/24) returning CPS charging numbers to 2016 levels.
  • Our management data showed we charged seven out of 10 (74.9 per cent) of adult rape-flagged cases which had been referred by police to the CPS ready for a charging decision to be made.

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