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Individuals who retract a rape allegation from fear are protected from prosecution by new CPS guidance

07/07/2011

"Rape and domestic violence victims should be confident in reporting abuse without fear of prosecution if they are later pressured into retracting the allegation, following the publication of new CPS guidance today," said Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

But anyone who maliciously invents a false allegation of rape or domestic violence is warned that they are still very much at risk of prosecution.

The final guidance was announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) today at the Women's Aid Annual National Conference. It follows a public consultation in which the DPP sought the views of the public and met charities and pressure groups to discuss the interim guidance, which was published in February 2011.

Mr Starmer said: "This has been a valuable consultation and I would like to thank those who have taken the time to respond and to help inform the final guidance. We have carefully considered all the responses and have taken them into account in the changes contained in the final version of the legal guidance.

"We recognise that complainants sometimes retract a true allegation due to pressure, violence or intimidation. Prosecutors should always explore whether the original allegation was true and any background of domestic violence to which the complainant has been subjected."

The guidance applies to cases where a complainant of rape or domestic violence makes a false allegation, retracts an original complaint, or takes back a retraction of the original complaint.

Speaking at the Women's Aid annual national conference today, Mr Starmer said: "Improving our effectiveness at tackling violence against women remains a priority for the Crown Prosecution Service."

Following the consultation process a number of changes were made to the guidance, including adding:

  • a clear distinction between the circumstances in which a complainant has made a false allegation, where a complainant might retract an original complaint and where someone might retract an original retraction;
  • that complainants who do not understand the seriousness of making a false allegation because they have a learning disability or mental health issues will be less likely to be prosecuted;
  • emphasis on the care which is required in cases involving those below the age of 18. Prosecutors are asked to consider the interests of the youth when weighing up the public interest factors along with the fact that the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by children and young people;
  • more examples of reasons why someone might retract a true allegation and emphasising the need to explore these issues;
  • the recognition that voluntary specialist support organisations as well as Independent Domestic Violence Advisors and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors may be sources of information which could help prosecutors assess whether there is a background of domestic violence which might suggest an original allegation is true.

Under the evidential stage of the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which governs all prosecution decisions, CPS lawyers should ask themselves whether there is evidence that the original allegation may have been true, using evidence such as medical evidence, the tape of a 999 call or CCTV footage. And the prosecutor should always consider whether there is a background of domestic violence which may have influenced the complainant's decision to retract.

Applying the public interest test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, prosecutors are asked to find that a prosecution for perverting the course of justice is more likely to be required where:

  • a false complaint was motivated by malice;
  • a false complaint was sustained over a period of time (particularly where there were opportunities to retract);
  • the suspect in the original allegation was charged and remanded in custody;
  • the suspect in the original allegation was tried, convicted and/or sentenced;
  • the complainant who made the original allegation has previous convictions or out-of-court disposals relevant to this offence, or a history of making demonstrably false complaints;
  • the suspect in the original allegation was in a vulnerable position or had been taken advantage of;
  • the suspect in the original allegation has sustained significant damage to his or her reputation.

Applying the public interest factors set out in the Code, prosecutors should find that a prosecution is less likely to be required where:

  • the original allegation appears not to have been motivated by malice;
  • the person retracting the allegation has been threatened or pressurised into doing so by the suspect of the original allegation, his or her family, friends or other persons;
  • there is a history of abuse or domestic violence or intimidation which might offer mitigation such as to make it likely that a nominal penalty will be imposed;
  • the suspect of the original allegation was not charged, detained or convicted and has not suffered damage to his or her reputation as a result of the original allegation;
  • the person who made the original allegation appears not fully to have understood the seriousness of making a false allegation bearing in mind his or her age and maturity, learning disability or mental health issues.

However, assessing the public interest is not simply a matter of adding up the number of factors on each side and seeing which side has the greater number. Each case must be considered on its own facts and on its own merits.

The DPP has said that all cases where a CPS lawyer is considering prosecuting someone who has made a rape or domestic violence allegation should be referred to CPS headquarters before a prosecution decision is reached.

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. The final guidance can be found at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/perverting_the_course_of_justice_-_rape_and_dv_allegations/
  2. The summary of responses can be found at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/summary_of_responses_on_perverting_course_of_justice.html  
  3. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  4. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  5. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Group, Special Crime and Counter-Terrorism, and Organised Crime. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  6. The CPS employs around 8,316 people and prosecuted 982,731 cases with a conviction rate of 86.8% in the magistrates' courts and 80.7% in the Crown Court in 2009-20010. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  7. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.