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Max Hill QC's opening speech to the joint CPS/NPCC conference on Rape and Serious Sexual Offences

|News, Sexual offences
  • Introduction
  • Partnership working and relationships 
  • The opportunities that come from scrutiny
  • Looking to the future

Introduction

Good morning, everyone. Thank you to Siobhan for setting the tone and thank you, of course, to Sarah, for speaking so honestly and so collaboratively. So, welcome to our prosecutors and police partners.

I must start by saying thank you to you all. Thank you for your commitment and your really dedicated work to tackle these dreadful crimes. I am very grateful to you all, without exception.

We also have in attendance here today our ISVAs - Independent Sexual Violence Advisors - so I want to take this moment to recognise the crucial support that you are providing to victims. This also feels like an apt moment to specifically thank the third sector colleagues who are here today, joining us to help shape the future of the JNAP (Joint National Action Plan).

When I say third sector, I mean the great people sitting on my table, and so many other great people, that have come together with our prosecutors, with your investigators, to come here and share your learning. So thank you for your support, and just as important, thank you for your scrutiny, because that is key. It is essential in shaping our work - which we reflect and accept.

And with that in mind, I am also delighted that we are joined by academics from Operation Soteria Bluestone from both police and CPS, Professor Betsy Stanko and Professor Vanessa Munro, whose vital research is providing independent scrutiny and rigour in continuing to shape our national operating model.

So it’s an important moment for all of us as colleagues: this is the halfway point in that three-year Joint National Action Plan. A chance for us to come together, reflect on what we have achieved and what we have learned to date through our joint work, acknowledge the work that is still to do, and to share what we plan to achieve together in the future.

When I reflect on the significant shared challenges that the police and prosecutors face – all of them compounded by the unprecedented events of the past two years' pandemic – all of our work, that of all of us in this room, to tackle rape and serious sexual offences is right at the top of that list. We share the challenges. It is a priority for me personally and, I know, it is a priority for police colleagues personally, and for our prosecutors, personally - we are committed to significantly increasing the volume of rape cases going to court.

And working together is the only way to make that happen – and we must not let what can be challenging circumstances divide us. So today’s agenda is a testament to the joint work, and it includes sessions on joint scrutiny of our decision making, considering ABE interviews and engagement with victims. This has been co-produced by CPS and police colleagues and it’s a programme that truly demonstrates the diversity and breadth of our improvement work on rape - a journey to becoming a high-performing team.

We will explore all of this in more detail throughout the day, but may I begin by reflecting briefly on some of the key lessons we have learnt through this work so far.

Partnership working and relationships

First, the JNAP is built on relationships – and that begins with the critical relationship between investigator and prosecutor. And underpinning that relationship is a simple fact: we all want the same thing. We all want criminals bought to justice. We all want victims and witnesses treated with care that recognises their trauma. We all want defendants handled fairly. And we all want the public made safer.

Our respective organisations have necessarily different roles - and the distinction between us is important - but we are dependent on each other for our successes.

Likewise, we are privileged to work alongside dedicated and committed independent sexual violence advisors. The framework that we, together with the NPCC, launched last year exemplifies the importance of the three-way relationship between ISVA, prosecutor and investigator. It is a three-way relationship and we want to continue to build on this as we look to the next phase of the JNAP.

One crucial area of collaboration - and through this afternoon’s workshops you have the opportunity to learn more about it - is early investigative advice, where most of us - investigator and prosecutor - come together early to build strong cases. To give an example, a pilot by CPS South East and Sussex, Surrey and Kent police forces has significantly enhanced the relationship between officers and prosecutors. That pilot includes several strands: an early advice initiative, pre-charge and case progression clinics, NFA scrutiny panels and action plan reviews.

What is clear that early and continued communication between specialist lawyer and specialist police officer makes for a higher quality case file and therefore a better criminal justice outcome, and the Area I’m talking about here is seeing an increase in referrals and charge volumes. That is emphasised, I suggest, by the problem-solving attitude.

The opportunities that come from scrutiny

Rape and serious sexual offences and wider work on Violence against Women and Girls is high on the political agenda. Since the launch of JNAP, we have seen the cross-Government Rape Review, we’ve seen an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee into Rape. Let me just pause for a moment to say it is very difficult to have your work discussed and critiqued publicly - but we can use this opportunity to open up our organisations and embrace the scrutiny it brings, learning valuable lessons about how to improve our practice and outcomes.

The other benefit of increased scrutiny is that it allows us to make the case for increased resourcing, to better meet the needs of the victims of these crimes - and I was glad to see this reflected in allocations for both the CPS and police in the most recent spending review. It is very clear to me that we, and I mean policing and the CPS, have to grow in order to deliver. We need more investigators with all of the support staff to enable them to function to their best, and we need more prosecutors with all of the CPS support staff who help them to give their best.

Progress so far

So, today is about lessons learned and looking forward - but it is also a moment to pause and acknowledge the progress that we have made. That stat that many of you will know is that, since we launched the JNAP in January 2021, we have seen a 37% increase in referrals from the police to the CPS, and a 32% increase in the volume of charges for adult rape offences.

Behind those percentages I give full credit and thanks to all of the victims and witnesses who have had the dedication and the courage to stick with the criminal justice process - particularly to stick with, and go through, a rape trial. I hope that, as frontline professionals, these increases provide encouragement to keep pushing further, and to feel confident in the changes we’re making across our organisations.

I also hope that you also feel proud. These improvements would not have been possible without your hard work - so thank you. Your dedication is paying off.

I know that your work is challenging - you handle some of the most distressing offences that we deal with. In the face of that, your wellbeing is a priority - we know you need the right support, and we are working hard to make sure it is in place. I hope that many of you will already have taken advantage of the help on offer, and we have a stand here today outlining the wellbeing offers across both the CPS and the police. Do take a look if you have chance between sessions, or your line manager will be able to point you in the right direction.

Looking to the future

I will close my remarks by looking to the future. I look forward to hearing your views on the refreshed JNAP as we move through the day, your reflections on where we can go further. And as we move into this next phase, our focus is on fully embedding the change we have begun, but if there are additional actions that you think would be valuable to our shared ambition, this is the opportunity - please let us know.

Within the CPS, we are delivering what I suggest is an ambitious programme to reform how we communicate with victims - particularly those that require additional support, and of course that includes victims of rape and serious sexual offences - and I know later today we will be hearing from a brave survivor on this topic. Across the police and the CPS, we are working closely together to expand and to embed the learning from Operation Soteria, and we are exploring innovative ways to help victims give their best evidence through improved ABE interviews.

And so, I will end where I began - with collaboration. There’s no strategy that exemplifies this more than the JNAP, and we all know, don’t we, that it is only through genuine partnership that we will achieve our shared goal of bringing more rape offenders to justice.

Enjoy the day - thank you.

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