Violence Against Women and Girls - DPP speech to Women's Aid, July 1, 2015
Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be here - particularly as I can talk to you about welcome news of significant improvements in the prosecution of violence against women and girls cases.
We reached the highest level ever of violence against women and girls (VAWG) prosecutions and convictions in 2014-15 - the highest numbers of defendants convicted for domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences since we started recording.
Over the last few years we identified a fall in the volume of VAWG cases and we are pleased that work with the police has totally reversed that fall in 2014-15.
And it is our work on domestic abuse (DA) that is responsible for much of the overall rise across VAWG - 87% of VAWG defendants are prosecuted for DA offences.
Today I want to:
- highlight some more details of what we have achieved on domestic abuse in the last year;
- and look at how we have done that.
I'll also say a few words about our work on the wider violence against women and girls agenda - and look at one trend we have identified throughout all types of recent VAWG cases - cyber crime.
But before I do that I want to thank you - for everything you have done in the last year which have made the successes possible, and for supporting victims across the country. What you do is vital in securing justice - and safety - for victims.
So to start specifically with domestic abuse, which you will of course be particularly interested in.
Joint work following the HMIC Inspection on the police handling of domestic abuse last year has led to the highest volume ever of referrals of DA cases - nearly 123,000.
And this increase is reflected right through the system:
- We have seen a rise in the volume of defendants charged - also reaching the highest volume ever of just under 85,000 - a rise of 16% since last year.
- This increase in charging has led to us prosecuting an additional 15,000 defendants for DA in the last year - to a total of more than 92,000. That is 1 in every 7 of all the cases the CPS prosecuted.
- And we have convicted nearly 69,000 people - that's over 10,000 more than last year and the highest volume ever.
We also kept the conviction rate quite steady against this big rise in volumes - last year it was 75% and this year 74%. But we are not complacent - we want to see both the volumes and the proportion convicted rising.
How have we done this?
So how have we achieved these increases?
When I spoke here last year I told you that in the next year we would:
- Update our DA guidance;
- Improve the speed of cases;
- Address support for victims; and
- Ensure specialist prosecutors for DA in every Area.
- We have updated our guidance;
- Our charging time has fallen from 4.6 days to 4.3 days on average;
- We are addressing support for victims; and
- We have retained specialists on DA in every Area.
I'll just expand on a couple of points.
Firstly, our revised DA legal guidance for prosecutors:
- This starts to address controlling and coercive behaviours - although we will update further later this year when more details of the offences are known;
- It enhances the advice for prosecutors on cases involving children inflicting violence upon their parents, teenagers and also older victims; and
- It provides links to the joint CPS-Police Domestic Abuse Evidence Checklist and details on victim withdrawals, outlining appropriate steps to take.
We are working closely with the Police in their current revision of their guidance too and will be providing training across the police and CPS on the new law on coercion and control in the coming year.
For prosecutors we will also have new training on teenage relationship abuse and abuse of older victims. And we will update specific advice on charging domestic abuse cases in the next version of the Director's Charging Guidance.
Support for victims
Moving on to support for victims - which is a key priority for me as DPP.
We have made a number of improvements for all victims of crime - including new Victim Liaison Units in every CPS Area. And we have also recently consulted on how we can better support victims and witnesses at court.
But on Domestic Abuse specifically, we have identified a number of local initiatives during 2014-15 indicating good work that will hopefully improve the experience of victims. For example:
- Here in the West Midlands the CPS meets with a forum of 35 ISVAs and IDVAs twice a year to share best practice, knowledge and case developments. In addition the Witness Care Unit is now specifically checking all domestic abuse cases two weeks before trial to maximise the opportunities for victims to come to court.
- In Thames Valley we work across the CJS and with victim agencies to ensure all domestic abuse cases will be listed for a first hearing at the local Specialist Domestic Abuse Court, within 14 days from the date the suspect was charged. For cases which go on to trial, the aim is to list for trial within two to three weeks of the first hearing rather than the current six to eight weeks; and
- In London, we have set up systems to increase the speed of trials, including digital provision of 999 recordings and body worn camera images.
So that's what we said we would do - but what else has helped us to successfully prosecute so many more cases
Well it doesn't sound like the most exciting thing, but it's vital - we continue to monitor every Area of England and Wales. Every six months Areas have to report to me about their performance and I assess the outcome of their actions.
We have VAWG coordinators in every Area leading this work and also Heads of Rape and Serious Sexual Offence Units focusing primarily on rape and Crown Court sexual offences, including child sexual abuse.
Every single Area has increased their volume of DA police referrals, charging, prosecutions and convictions and the great majority have ensured speedier charging.
These results give us tangible evidence that this assurance system has continued to help improve performance.
They also show the impact of working together with you in Women's Aid, not just at a national level in our VAWG External Consultation Group but also locally through our Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels and in your support services for victims.
We have identified where Areas are doing particularly well on DA prosecutions and in 2015 we are planning a 'deep dive' into five courts to draw out the lessons to share. A team of CJS practitioners will meet a number of key agencies as well as conduct a court visit and possibly speak with victims. We hope to develop a checklist of good practice which can then be shared across Areas.
But because most DA decisions are made by our CPS Direct 24-hour charging service, we have also built on the assurance regime with a VAWG Casework Quality Board for CPS Direct, alongside robust Individual Quality Assessments of their VAWG decisions.
All CPSD managers and prosecutors have received training in evidence-led prosecutions with a view to improving the quality of decision-making and ensuring cases are ready for progress in court. They have also been trained on the use of evidence from Police Body Worn Videos and on correspondence with victims. And they are working with national DA leads to draw up guidance ready for the implementation of the new law on coercion and control.
Harassment and stalking
There's one final development I want to highlight which has been really important in us increasing our numbers of DA prosecutions - prosecuting more harassment and stalking.
Prosecutions of DA harassment and breaches of restraining orders that started in 2014-15 rose by 20% from the previous year and DA stalking rose by just under 50%.
We started prosecutions on more than 8,000 offences of harassment and stalking; more than 11,000 on breaches of restraining orders and more than 6,000 on breaches of non-molestation orders that were related to DA.
We were helped in this by the publication of a joint police/CPS protocol on the investigation and prosecution of stalking in November 2014.
I know many of you will be interested in other violence against women and girls issues, which can be inextricably linked with domestic abuse - so I will share some details of our performance on these over the last year, starting with rape.
In the last year we have implemented a National Rape Action plan culminating in our launch of a number of new tools for prosecutors:
- You may have heard about our work on 'consent' - in January we launched a toolkit for police, prosecutors and advocates as well as a public leaflet on consent - explaining the importance of challenging whether victims of rape had the freedom or capacity to consent and developing a focus more on the steps taken by the alleged offender to gain consent;
- Vulnerability has been a key theme in our work on VAWG over the last year. We also launched a toolkit for prosecutors dealing with VAWG cases involving vulnerable victims - ensuring an offender-centric approach, reviewing VAWG cases on the credibility of the overall allegation, rather than focusing on that of the victim. A number of support organisations who are part of our External Consultation Group and will be represented in this room today helped to shape this toolkit - thank you;
- We have also issued further Guidance for police and prosecutors on ensuring early investigative advice and appropriate charging advice; and
- Guidance on ensuring that advocates with relevant skills, attitudes and training are instructed in rape cases.
Another priority for me personally is the prosecution of child sexual abuse - obviously very much a topical issue at the moment, and you will probably be aware that on Monday I announced that criminal proceedings will now be brought against Greville Janner for child sex offences, following a review under our Victims' Right to Review scheme.
I had always said that in my view this was an extremely difficult and borderline case because of the strong arguments on both sides. I had also always emphasised my concern for the complainants in this case. I understood their need to be heard, which is why I contacted Justice Goddard to ensure that they could give evidence as part of the public inquiry.
However, the review concluded that this forum, albeit a public one, cannot substitute for the adjudication of the courts. I accepted the outcome of the review and will now be bringing this prosecution to allow for that adjudication to happen.
Moving on to our performance in relation to child sexual abuse - in 2014/15 convictions in this area also rose to the highest volume ever, a rise of just under 19% from the previous year. And we continue to work across government on the issues raised by the increases in reported cases of child abuse.
New challenges - cyber crime:
Returning now to the overall picture of violence against women and girls offending.
In gathering together case studies for this year's report it was striking that so many involved social media, emails, messaging, and the internet. Social media is used for stalking, targeting of victims and grooming - as is online gaming. Indecent images are linked to child sexual abuse. The links between pornography, child sexual abuse, prostitution, trafficking, rape and sexual exploitation are clear. And research carried out by Women's Aid shows that one third of all direct threats made to victims online are carried out - so this trend needs to be taken very seriously.
Here are a couple of examples:
- The first is the case of a man who contacted a 19-year-old woman through Facebook, posting a false profile posing as a female au pair. He offered her a lift which she accepted as she thought he was the au pair. He turned up at the meeting point convincing her that her Facebook 'friend', the au pair, had asked him to collect her. He drove to remote farmland before forcefully committing sexual offences against her. He initially claimed that he had previously met the victim and that she consented to the sexual activity. However, the evidence was so strong that he pleaded guilty at court to the most serious of the offences against him. He was jailed for 13-and-a-half years for rape and sexual assault.
- The second case is of revenge pornography. A man posted naked photos of a woman he knew on social media after making a series of threats to her. Prosecutors following guidance issued in October 2014 on social media clarified how we can use existing legislation to prosecute perpetrators of such intrusive offences. He was charged with harassment without violence, and was sentenced to 12 weeks custody and issued with a restraining order, preventing him from contacting the victim.
From April 2015 there is a new offence of revenge pornography that can specifically be used, which will be of particular use in domestic abuse and stalking/harassment cases.
There are also new offences of possession of a paedophile manual and rape pornography, and changes to the law on grooming - as well as a forthcoming new offence of sexualised messaging - which will help us to prosecute these crimes.
But what else are we doing?
- Firstly - training. We have launched a number of new e-learning modules to help prosecutors to understand the new legislation including - 'The use of social media' and 'Prosecution of online grooming'. We have also worked with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to develop training on stalking and harassment.
- Secondly, we have provided guidance to help prosecutors make use of the new laws. We will also provide new guidance for prosecutors on VaWG related cyber-crime.
- Thirdly, working with social media platforms. Social media platforms have taken the proactive step in coming forward and can see that the use of online communication within crimes is bad for business. I have met with Twitter to discuss what can be done to protect victims of crime and a further meeting will be held this month.
- And finally, working with stakeholders - we are working across Government on child sexual abuse and we will be holding a stakeholder event later this month on stalking with key groups including Women's Aid, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Paladin.
We hope that taken together this work will help us to tackle this worrying trend.
I'd like to close by thanking again all of you who are supporting victims of abuse and who are working with CPS locally to try and make a difference.
We look forward to our coordinators and prosecutors continuing to work closely with you in the future for justice and safety for domestic abuse victims.