No stone left unturned to transform rape case handling says Director of Public Prosecutions
- Innovative pilots spearheading joint working with police
- Recruitment to boost prosecutor numbers in rape units
- Stronger focus on victim support
'Leaving no stone unturned' to transform the way rape prosecutions are handled is key to helping more victims see justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions has said today.
Publishing a progress update on its five-year blueprint to reverse falling rape prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has set out the wide range of actions taken in the last 18 months. This includes overhauling working relationships with partners across the criminal justice system, progressing recruitment, stepping up training and focusing on victim support.
Max Hill QC said: “Without doubt there is a crisis of public trust in how the criminal justice system is responding to violence against women and girls. We want to secure justice in every possible rape case, which means significantly increasing the number we bring to court, year on year.
“We have looked at every aspect of our work - leaving no stone unturned - to understand and address the reasons behind the stark drop in the numbers. We are beginning to see results, with the proportion of rape cases we charge steadily increasing, but there is a long way to go.
“If we are to build confidence that we are taking the right steps, and that all rape victims and suspects are treated fairly, we must be transparent about every aspect of our practice and our decision-making. Leading this transformation will need sustained focus but we are working as never before to get this right.”
Today’s report highlights three main areas of activity:
- improving the support given to victims, and recognising the trauma they experience;
- supporting our prosecutors and expanding the size of our specialist units so that they are properly resourced to respond to these challenging and complex cases; and
- better collaboration with the police from the very start of an investigation, taking an offender-centric approach to case-building.
It charts the progress made since the CPS strategy on Rape and Serious Sexual Offences – RASSO 2025 – was published in July 2020. A major focus of this work has been on improving collaboration, including Operation Soteria, an ambitious programme of work to transform how the CPS and police handle rape investigations and prosecutions, centring on the conduct of the suspect as opposed to the victim. It looks at all stages of the case and will be the foundation, following evaluation, of a new operating model for CPS Areas. New approaches are being trialled in five CPS Areas and their corresponding police forces, including:
- closer partnership on investigations: testing several methods of providing early advice to the police, to improve the number, timeliness and quality of police referrals so that more rape cases go before the courts;
- action plan monitoring: making sure that all action plans set by the CPS are reasonable, proportionate, and help build strong cases;
- No Further Action (NFA) scrutiny: increasing scrutiny of decisions not to charge, with police, local stakeholders and CPS jointly looking at cases;
- supporting victims: enhancing communication with victims and increasing engagement with Independent Sexual Violence Advisers; and
- supporting our people: joint learning with police and prosecutors.
These pilots will shortly be expanded to other parts of the country.
We are committed to working closely with the police to build the best possible cases as quickly as possible. Before the police formally send a case to the CPS for a charging decision, they can consult and seek ‘early advice’ from us from the beginning of an investigation to build and strengthen a case.
Case study: CPS South East
CPS South East established a Rape Response Improvement group, working in partnership with their local police forces to narrow the disparity between rape reports and criminal justice outcomes. They provide early advice to the police, jointly discussing the investigation strategy and evidence required to build a case to charge. Pre-charge case progression clinics help to overcome obstacles and reduce delays, while scrutiny panels review police decisions to take no further action and identify any cases which, with further investigation, have potential to be built into a file for submission to the CPS. The CPS assess their own action plans to ensure they are relevant and proportionate, avoid unnecessary inquiries and reduce delay. The year to November 2021 saw an 88 per cent increase in referrals compared with the previous 12 months. The pilot has also helped to bring down the time from a report of rape to police submitting a file to the CPS from an average of 18 months to 32 days.
All rape and serious sexual offences cases are handled by highly trained prosecutors in specialist units. These units are being expanded to support these new ways of working, and to manage the increase in the number of prosecutions expected to follow. Recruiting specialists to fill staffing gaps is a challenge, but we have trained 100 new prosecutors to work on rape cases, and by the end of March, 70 experienced staff will have been placed into the Operation Soteria pilot Areas.
As well as comprehensively updating our legal guidance, we have introduced extensive additional training for prosecutors, including understanding the impact of trauma. Our approach has been informed by listening to victims who tell us they have felt let down by their experience in the criminal justice system and specifically in their dealing with the CPS.
To address this, we are prioritising working more closely with Independent Serious Sexual Violence Advisors and support services. We have developed a national framework, jointly with the police, which sets out clear standards expected so that rights under the Victims’ Code are always met.
Separately, the CPS has recently carried out an extensive piece of research, working with victims, their supporters and criminal justice partners, to better understand victim needs. This looks at the experience of victims of all crime types, but will inform how we improve the service we offer to rape victims.
Further actions undertaken since the CPS launched its’s five-year rape and serious sexual offences strategy are detailed in today’s report. We have:
- implemented a Joint National Action Plan with the police to improve case progression, building the strongest possible cases from the outset, and accelerating the process
- focused on support for victims, launching joint frameworks with the police for standards of support for victims and working with Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and support services;
- created a guide for victims to explain the process of a criminal trial;
- developed joint training packages with the police on third party material and reasonable lines of enquiry;
- provided training for RASSO prosecutors, advocates and managers on proportionality and disclosure in RASSO cases, as well as additional training on trauma;
- clarified that the health and wellbeing of the victim should always come first in deciding whether to access pre-trial therapy;
- implemented new baseline standards across CPS Areas, to make sure that the best ways of working are applied consistently throughout England and Wales;
- Promoted the use of Section 28 special measure for victims of RASSO cases in seven pilot Crown Courts and nationally for vulnerable victims and witnesses.
Notes to editors
- The first CPS Areas involved in the Operation Soteria pilots are London South, North East, South West, Cymru/Wales and the West Midlands. The pilots will shortly be expanded to further CPS Areas and police forces
- The latest quarterly data, published last month, confirms that the proportion of rape cases being charged is increasing, and is at a high of 69 per cent
- The CPS response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the draft Victims’ Bill includes information on how we will improve our support for victims
- Terminology: Language and terminology is important when discussing rape and serious sexual offences. Throughout this report, the term ‘victim(s)’ is used to refer to those affected by alleged rape and/or sexual assault. It encompasses other terms such as ‘complainant(s)’, and ‘survivor(s)’. The term victim as used also encompasses both sexes and all genders, whilst explicitly recognising that females make up most victims.