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Sexual Offences

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 updated the law, much of which dated back to 1956.

The main provisions of the Act include the following:

  • Rape is widened to include oral penetration
  • Significant changes to the issue of consent
  • Specific offences relating to children under 13, 16 and 18
  • Offences to protect vulnerable persons with a mental disorder
  • Other miscellaneous offences
  • Strengthening the notification requirements and providing new civil preventative orders

Find out more about how we prosecute sexual offences

CPS & ACPO respond to joint Inspectorates' report on rape


Police and prosecutors have accepted the recommendations in a joint report on the investigation and prosecution of rape cases.

The report, "Without consent", by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate acknowledges good practice and highlights areas where improvements could be made.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, QC, said the report recognised the efforts made by the CPS since the previous joint inspection report in 2002. It identified many strengths and good practice procedures.

Sir Ken said: ""I am determined to improve the way we deal with these cases from start to finish. We owe it to the complainants, who are showing more confidence in coming forward, to do our best for them.

"We must make sure that we do what we are supposed to do when handling these cases. It would be wrong to do otherwise."

The improvements noted in the report included:

  • A significant improvement in the contact by counsel with victims and witnesses;
  • A good understanding of the use of special measures - such as screens or video interviews;
  • Joint working together by police, prosecutors and other agencies at an operational level.

Sir Ken said that some improvements were already underway. "Last year, for example, we announced that CPS London would be appointing specialist rape advocates to review and prosecute rape cases to improve our handling of these most difficult cases. Four advocates will be in post in early February.

"CPS Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and CPS West Yorkshire, are following in the footsteps of CPS London and will be recruiting specialist advocates. I expect that this will lead to other areas doing the same.

"Specialist advocates will work together with the police from the start of a complaint to ensure robust cases are brought to court. They will play a significant role in securing a wider understanding of the problems and solutions affecting trials in this difficult area."

The CPS has drawn up a delivery plan for the areas to improve their performance, said Sir Ken, and it will be the responsibility of a new specific unit to see that improvement is delivered.

Commenting in response to the joint Inspectorate report, John Yates, ACPO lead on Rape and Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service, said:

"ACPO has been working closely with the HMIC since their original report in 2002 to ensure that progress against their recommendations is maintained. The ACPO Rape Working Group has actively lobbied for this re-inspection in order to ensure that all Forces across the country remain focussed on this issue and ensure that it is a priority within their area.

"I am pleased to note that Her Majesty's Inspectorate has identified and given credit to much of the progress made. Good practice does exist across the country. But I absolutely endorse the view of the HMIC when they say that it is not a question of changing the approach but of ensuring that what should be done is actually done and that the efforts of those involved are supported properly.

"Rape is a dreadful crime. All the research tells us that proper and sympathetic care for the victim are the most important factors in gathering evidence to provide the best opportunity to establish the truth of what has taken place and, just as importantly, secure convictions.

"Rape is also one of the most difficult crimes to prove. As the report and academic research indicates, the vast majority of rapes involve parties that are known to each other. The offence takes place behind closed doors where there are no other witnesses. Forensic issues in such cases are usually not probative. We know from recent surveys, and I particularly refer to Amnesty International, that perceptions and attitudes of society and thus those that make up juries present significant challenges.

"This means we, the police, and other partners within the Criminal Justice System must re-double our efforts. The Police Service has a number of priorities, but this has to be close to number one.

"The introduction of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs), now operating in many parts of England and Wales, has made a substantial difference, both in terms of victim care, following a traumatic ordeal and in the assistance they provide to investigations by the police. There are currently 14 SARCs across England and Wales with several more under development. In London for example, there are three sites that offer complete coverage for the capital.

"There has been a significant development in training for officers at all levels. There is now in place specialist training for senior investigators, forensic practitioners, call handlers and police station front counter staff.

"Throughout the last few months, with the agreement and active support of all Chief Constables, an ACPO/PSU team has visited every Force to elicit the good practice in rape investigations so that this can be disseminated across the wider Service. This work will continue this year with a re-visit to Forces, in conjunction with the CPS, to offer consultancy in all aspects of rape investigation.

As I have stated, rape remains one of the most difficult crimes to investigate and prosecute, involving, as it often does, the word of one person against another. The Police Service recognises there is still much to do. We must ensure that best practice is recognised and implemented across the country. There can be no excuse for not doing so. We therefore welcome this latest report and accept all the recommendations. We will be working hard with colleagues across the criminal justice and other agencies to ensure its recommendations are implemented as soon as possible."

Media enquiries to:
CPS: Press Office, 020 7796 8106
ACPO: Lisa Vasco, 020 7084 8947, or out of hours 07803 903 686