CPS Says - Prosecuting Rape cases

|News, Sexual offences

There have been a number of harrowing stories published in recent weeks about individual experiences of the criminal justice system when they report rape.

The Independent in particular published an account at the weekend (May 19) from a woman who had waived her right to anonymity to explain her view of her experience and question the decision made by the CPS in not pursuing the case.

We know that sexual offences have a lasting damaging impact on everyone affected by them. Where it is possible for us to prosecute, we will always seek to do so. We very strongly reject the suggestion that CPS has "decriminalised" rape.

Rape is one of the most complex and challenging offences to prosecute and we recognise that our decisions have a profound impact on those involved.

We cannot go into the specifics of individual cases but victims do have the right to ask for a review of the decision not to prosecute, and this is what happened here. A Specialist Prosecutor, independent from the case, assessed all of the evidence and the decision that there was insufficient evidence to proceed was upheld. This is a fresh review and has in some instances led to decisions being overturned where appropriate.

We wanted to clarify some of the issues raised in this article and explain how our decisions to prosecute are made.

To be clear there is no policy of asking prosecutors to judge a case based on how they predict a jury might decide. The test for a jury is whether they can be sure 'beyond reasonable doubt' and the test we apply - for all crime types - is not the same.

Instead, the Code for Crown Prosecutors firstly asks if, when carefully considering all the available evidence, there is a realistic prospect of conviction. If the answer is yes, we then look at whether prosecution is in the public interest. It is almost always in the public interest to prosecute rape but if the evidential stage of the test is not met, a case cannot proceed, no matter how serious. Bringing the right cases to court is in the interests of everybody involved and these are difficult decisions to make.

That’s why we train our prosecutors to deal with the particular complexities of rape and serious sexual offences. This includes understanding victim vulnerabilities and the impact of rape, as well as consent, myths and stereotypes about the way victims of rape may behave, and the difficulties of cases involving vulnerable witnesses and young people. We provide clear guidance to assist this decision making.

We understand that the falling charge rates for rape is a cause of concern. However, it is not indicative of a change of approach or lack of commitment to prosecute; we are clear that there has been no change of approach. There are however a number of factors which we believe have contributed to this.

We are increasingly working with the police to give early investigative advice in rape cases, like we do in complex cases like fraud and terrorism. By working with police from the outset, we can assess what can be done to strengthen cases and make sure that cases passed to us are robust and appropriate for prosecution under the Code.

The growth in digital data is another huge challenge and the use of social media continues to grow. The sheer volume of is complicating the gathering and analysis of evidence and also means that the investigation might take longer before an informed decision can be made about the relative strengths of the case.

We know issues in the handling of rape and serious sexual offences have been raised across the Criminal Justice System (CJS). We are a partner in a cross-departmental review and victim’s groups have been invited to take part so we can look honestly and openly how we, and the CJS, can improve in respect of these cases.

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