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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

Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

Find out more about private prosecutions

DPP announces measures to strengthen rape prosecutions


"Rape victims deserve justice and I am determined that we will deliver it," Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said today

Mr Starmer was announcing a series of changes within the CPS intended to instil greater quality and consistency into the processes by which crimes of rape are prosecuted.  One of the key elements will be to seek the views of interested parties about the factors the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should consider before prosecuting people for perverting the course of justice connected with rape cases. This will inform new guidance for prosecutors.

The cases covered by the new guidance will include those where someone is  investigated for falsely claiming they were a victim of rape or other violence, or someone falsely retracting such a claim.

Mr Starmer said: "While we must be robust in prosecuting those who seek to pervert the course of justice, cases where someone has reported a rape but then retracts the allegation must be treated very carefully and we must explore the issues behind the retraction, particularly if the victim is under pressure or frightened.  We are keen to know the views of all parties, including charities and special interest groups with expertise in this area.  This will ensure our new guidance deals properly and sensitively with these, often complex, situations."

Commenting on the wider changes, Mr Starmer said: "Prosecuting rape is very challenging. Public expectations are high and sometimes unrealistic. By their very nature, many cases turn on the word of one individual against another. Rape often occurs in private with the victim the only witness. Unless the defendant pleads guilty, usually the victim has to give evidence in court to establish the basis for a prosecution and the prosecution case must always be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

"As prosecutors we need to reinforce the so-called merits-based approach to rape cases. Cases should be judged entirely on the merits of the evidence: myths and stereotypes have no place in a criminal justice system underpinned by basic human rights."

All rape prosecutions are handled within the CPS by trained specialist rape prosecutors, whose high quality of work was recognised by Baroness Stern while researching her report on how the criminal justice system handles rape cases.

The changes to drive up quality are as follows:

  • any prosecutor across England and Wales who considers charging a person who has retracted an allegation of rape with an offence of perverting the course of justice will now need the DPPs approval before they can proceed; 
  • reinforcing the merits-based approach to rape prosecutions by dealing effectively with myths and stereotypes; 
  •  introducing Violence against Women (VaW) assurance measures from 1 January which require all CPS areas to monitor   their handling of VaW cases and where necessary remedial action will be taken to ensure a consistent national approach;
  • improving the quality of communications with victims. 
  • While the CPS faces budget cuts these cannot be allowed to affect the quality of rape prosecutions.

Mr Starmer said: "These measures are the first steps in a long-term drive to improve the quality of rape prosecutions. They complement the Core Quality Standards, announced earlier this year, and will further hold the CPS to the high standard that the public rightly expect."

The exercise to seek the views of interested groups on the factors to consider before prosecuting someone for perverting the course of justice will be launched in the New Year. 



Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  3. The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). These are organised into 12 Groups, plus CPS London, each overseen by Group Chair, a senior CCP. In addition there are four specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Group, Counter-Terrorism, Organised Crime and Special Crime. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. The CPS employs around 8,316 people and prosecuted 982,731 cases with a conviction rate of 86.8% in the magistrates' courts and 80.7% in the Crown Court in 2009-20010. Further information can be found on the CPS website
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media