CPS welcomes independent affirmation of rape charging decisions

|News, Sexual offences

HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today published the findings of its inspection into the CPS prosecution of rape cases. This will contribute to the Government’s comprehensive, end-to-end review of how rape and sexual violence cases are handled across the criminal justice system.

The review seeks to understand why the number of rape cases going to court has fallen, despite the number of reports increasing. HMCPSI specifically looked at whether CPS decision making was driving this change.

Their independent inspection has found no evidence that CPS prosecutors are risk averse, or that they are only charging  ‘easier’ cases in order to increase the conviction rate. Detailed consideration of our legal decision making found that the legal test was properly applied in 98% of cases. HMCPSI concluded that the fall in numbers is not because of any lack of CPS commitment to prosecute.

Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC said: “I share the deep public concern over the growing gap between the number of rapes being reported, and the number of criminals being convicted of this sickening offence. It is right that the CPS is open to independent scrutiny to be sure that we are doing everything possible to bring offenders to justice.

“I am reassured that HMCPSI has found no evidence that the CPS has become risk averse when deciding whether to charge these cases. Our prosecutors are highly trained, dedicated, and committed to taking even the most challenging cases to court whenever the legal test is met. I welcome this vote of confidence in their professionalism, and the quality of their legal decision making.”

HMCPSI has made a number of recommendations for improvements in how the police and prosecutors can work together. The CPS accepts all the recommendations, and work is already underway on a joint programme of action with the police to build the strongest possible cases from the outset, and bringing them before the court as quickly as possible.

Max Hill QC continued: “I know that there are things we must do better. The cross-Government review is rightly looking at all parts of the system to identify actions to improve how these challenging cases are handled. The CPS is committed to doing everything in our power, along with our partners, to improve our response. I look forward to the conclusion of the review, and any further insights into why such a small proportion of cases ever reach the CPS for a charging decision.”

The Inspectorate also noted that prosecutors in RASSO units are stretched, and challenged by increasing complexity in the cases they decide. The additional funding the CPS has recently secured will enable us to recruit additional prosecutors, and pressures on RASSO Units will be considered when they are deployed. It is also allowing investment in digital solutions to the challenges faced by prosecutors handling increasing volumes of digital material.

All RASSO prosecutors receive extensive training in the specifics of these offences; including rape myths and stereotypes, the impact of the trauma of rape, and the challenges of prosecuting cases involving particularly vulnerable victims and witnesses. As part of this training, by February all RASSO lawyers will complete mandatory training courses dedicated to reasonable lines of enquiry to ensure requests for digital data are necessary and proportionate in every case.

Notes to editors

  • On 17 December 2019, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate published their 2019 Rape Inspection
  • You can read the CPS’ full response to the report and its recommendations on this site
  • The cross-Government rape review was announced as part of the refreshed Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.
  • Joint work with the police is already underway, to develop new ways of working and pilot innovative practices, including:
    • Case progression: embedding new guidance on early investigative advice and reasonable lines of enquiry to ensure we build strong cases from the outset; and improving the implementation of action plans, through effective communication, clear timelines and robust escalation points to ensure we reduce the number that are administratively finalised and expedite bringing strong cases to court.
    • Digital capability and disclosure: embedding guidance to help investigators and prosecutors balance the needs of an investigation with the right to privacy; and working together to help the public understand the impact of digital evidence and third party evidence on our casework, including how we decide what data to collect, how we collect it as part of a criminal investigation and prosecution, and how it might be used.
    • Expertise: exploring different models, locally and nationally, for delivering specialist investigation and prosecution in RASSO cases; and following the publication of the Government’s Review, hosting a joint national conference and regional workshops to deliver specialist training to our investigators and prosecutors, including on the offender centric approach and trauma.
    • Supporting victims: working together and in partnership with specialist services, to ensure victims receive the right information and support and feel listened to; and improving the quality of our communications to ensure they are timely and sensitive to the needs of particularly vulnerable victims and witnesses.
    • Stakeholder engagement: drawing on the collective expertise of the police’s National Rape Working Group and the CPS’s external consultation group through workshops to help shape joint areas of work and our respective long-term plans.

Further reading