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Rape and Sexual Offences - Chapter 1: Introduction

This guidance is currently out for consultation - see sidebar|Legal Guidance, Sexual offences

PLEASE NOTE - INTERIM GUIDANCE: APPLIES FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2020

The Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) legal guidance sets out how prosecutors should apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors to rape and other sexual offences in order to build and present cases that are evidentially strong and therefore more likely to succeed at trial. The purpose of the guidance is to:

  • Assist prosecutors to identify the most appropriate charges under the relevant legislation;
  • Identify and facilitate understanding of the numerous legal issues arising in cases of rape and other sexual offences;
  • Signpost prosecutors to the protocols, policies, legislation and key cases that are relevant to decision making and the case management of rape and serious sexual offences.

This legal guidance provides a framework for prosecutors and highlights key points to be considered in frequently charged offences. The main piece of legislation is the Sexual Offences Act 2003 but, in view of the significant number of cases featuring non-recent allegations, prosecutors must be familiar with the operation of earlier legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Indecency with Children Act 1960. Prosecutors must also be familiar with how changes in legislation and sentencing provisions impact upon charge selection.

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Joint National Protocol for the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape (‘the Rape Protocol’), the Director’s Guidance on Charging (5th Edition), the Criminal Procedure Rules and Practice Direction 2020 as amended and other relevant CPS legal guidance, which includes:

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy provides an overarching framework for crimes identified as being primarily, but not exclusively, committed by men, against women and girls within a context of power and control. It includes rape and other sexual offences. Although the majority of reported complaints are made by women and girls, there are many victims of rape or sexual offending who are men or boys.

Therefore, this guidance recognises that complainants and perpetrators may be male or female. The guidance applies equally, irrespective of gender and reference to ‘he’ or ‘she’ within the guidance is interchangeable, except where the offences are specific to a particular sex.

A significant proportion of offences are committed in a familial setting and therefore an understanding of the impact and dynamics of sexual abuse as set out in the Domestic Abuse legal guidance is extremely important.

The Joint National CPS and Police Protocol for the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape (“the Rape Protocol”)

The Rape Protocol published in January 2015 sets out a framework within which the police and CPS will work in partnership to build effective cases and improve the service to the victims of these crimes.

The Protocol applies to rape and to all penetrative sexual offences regardless of gender. The application of the protocol to other sexual offences, including child sexual abuse, is regarded as best practice.

The objectives of the protocol are:

  • to reflect national Police and CPS policy;
  • to achieve improved and consistent performance in the investigation and prosecution of rape;
  • to improve the service to victims of rape, and
  • to increase public confidence in the Police and the CPS response to rape.

The Protocol covers the obligations of investigators and prosecutors, and sets out best practice and the approach to be adopted in all cases involving rape or other penetrative offences. Compliance with the Protocol is important and all aspects must be considered and evidenced within the prosecutor’s legal reviews, and throughout the life of the case.

Victims and Witnesses

Rape and other sexual offence cases are challenging to prosecute and by their very nature require sensitive and careful handling, especially with regard to victim care. The provision of accurate information to the complainant throughout the life of the case, together with quality witness care, and careful consideration of special measures are all important factors in maximising the quality of evidence given.

Victims of rape and sexual assault are entitled to an enhanced service under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime which sets out the CPS statutory obligations. Prosecutors must familiarise themselves with Speaking to Witnesses at Court guidance which outlines the role played by prosecutors in ensuring that civilian witnesses give their best evidence and emphasises the need to ensure that witnesses are properly assisted and know what to expect before they give evidence. In addition, prosecutors and advocates should refer to revised guidance on Victim Personal Statements in appropriate cases and provide guidance and support to victims who wish to read their personal statement at any sentencing hearing.

Further reading

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