CPS response to The Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates (CJII) joint thematic inspection of the police and CPS response to rape
The Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate (CJII) has today 16 July 2021, published a report that considers the police and CPS response to rape. The report is the first of two which, between them will consider the response, decision-making and effectiveness of the police and CPS at every stage of a rape case - from first report through to finalisation of the case. This first phase focuses on those cases where either the police or the CPS made the decision to take no further action (i.e. not to proceed with the case).
Rape is a truly devastating and life changing crime. The stark drop in the number of cases that have gone before a jury in recent years means too few victims are seeing justice - reversing that is an absolute priority for the CPS. We are determined to drive up the number of rape cases going to court. Too few victims are seeing justice and we are working hard to change that.
We recognise the courage that it takes to make a report of rape to the police and we welcome the recommendations regarding a victim-centred approach, founded on targeted specialist support for victims. We have listened to victims who tell us they have felt let down by their experience in the criminal justice system. We are absolutely committed to restoring confidence to make it easier for victims to stay engaged. We are working closely with victim services to improve how we communicate with victims to help them understand and support them through the process.
The CPS is pleased to note that the Inspectorate commended the many dedicated people who work within the organisation who are unwavering in their efforts to do the right thing for victims of rape, often in very difficult and challenging circumstances. The CPS is also pleased that the report concluded that the CPS decision to take no further action was correct in 87 of the 90 cases that were assessed and in one of those three cases the decision was overturned by the CPS following a victim appeal.
At the same time the CPS understands and accepts that the approach to investigation and prosecution to rape and the response of the wider criminal justice system must improve. A blame culture serves no one and the CPS is determined to work closely with our police colleagues to improve outcomes for victims. Significant work is already underway. In July 2020, we launched our RASSO 2025 strategy outlining a suite of products to help reduce the gap between the number of rape reports and criminal justice outcomes. The Police-CPS Joint National RASSO (Rape and Serious Sexual Offences) Action Plan 2021 (JNAP), published jointly with the police in January 2021, provides a significant opportunity for prosecutors and investigators to radically change the way they work together and with interested parties.
The CPS welcomes all the recommendations made in the report which, alongside the HM Government end to end rape review will be used to shape our improvement activities. The CPS are already encouraging and trialling innovative practices in CPS Areas and are committed to exploring and testing further innovative working with the police under Operation Soteria pathfinders to robustly evaluate the impact of different joint practices.
Recommendations for CPS:
Immediately, police forces and CPS Areas should work together at a local level to prioritise action to improve the effectiveness of case strategies and action plans, with rigorous target and review dates and a clear escalation and performance management process. The NPCC lead for adult sexual offences and the CPS lead should provide a national framework to help embed this activity.
We accept this recommendation and work is already underway to improve the effectiveness of action plans. Action 15 within the JNAP is aimed at improving the effectiveness of action plans with good communication, clear timelines and robust escalation points. From March 2021 it has been a requirement that a District Crown Prosecutor must review all rape cases where it is proposed that a second action plan will be sent to the police following the submission for a charging decision under the Full Code Test. All CPS Areas are required to submit a quarterly assurance return identifying how many cases there are with two or more actions plans and the Area must identify any narrative theme for why this is occurring. Areas are also required to have an agreed escalation process with each police force for action plan responses to ensure cases proceed expeditiously. This is in addition to the nationally agreed escalation process made between the CPS, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing in the National Case Progression Commitment published in March 2021.
Police forces and the CPS should work together at a local level to introduce appropriate ways to build a cohesive and seamless approach. This should improve relationships, communication and understanding of the roles of each organisation.
As a minimum, the following should be included:
- considering early investigative advice in every case and recording reasons for not seeking it;
- the investigator and the reviewing prosecutor including their direct telephone and email contact details in all written communication;
- in cases referred to the CPS, a face-to-face meeting (virtual or in person) between the investigator and prosecutor before deciding to take no further action; and
- a clear escalation pathway available to both the police and the CPS in cases where the parties don’t agree with decisions, subject to regular reviews to check effectiveness, and local results.
We accept this recommendation. The 6th Edition of the Directors Guidance on Charging (DG6) came in to force on 31 December 2020 and it strongly recommends that Early Advice is provided in rape and other serious sexual offence cases. Action 8 within the JNAP commits to launching and embedding new guidance on early investigative advice to ensure that the police and CPS jointly build strong cases from the outset. To help achieve this goal a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been drafted jointly between the CPS and the NPCC to encourage greater use of Early Advice. The MOU has now been signed off by CPS Areas and police forces, and builds on the Early Advice pilot ongoing in the South East.
The MOU reaffirms that Early Advice is a fundamental part of the investigation process in rape cases and every case should be considered for Early Advice. The MOU provides best practice guidance including that direct contact details are provided by investigators and prosecutors so that a face to face or virtual consultation can be held.
An action within the JNAP commits to ensuring that all police force and CPS areas have effective joint monitoring and escalation mechanisms in place for live investigations.
The police and the CPS, in consultation with commissioned and non-commissioned services and advocates, and victims, should review the current process for communicating to victims the fact that a decision to take no further action has been made. They should implement any changes needed so that these difficult messages are conveyed in a timely way that best suits the victims’ needs.
We accept this recommendation. Work is already underway, as part of the JNAP, to improve the quality of our communications with victims to ensure they are timely and sensitive to victims’ needs at every stage of the criminal justice process.
This work is being delivered through a joint police and CPS lead project group on improving communications with victims and are developing and driving forward a number of recommendations, including a victims’ procedural justice toolkit for police and prosecutors. This will put the needs of the victim at its heart, with communication preferences tailored to the victim’s specific needs.
We are developing a refreshed CPS No Further Action victim letter, with renewed focus on sensitivity. We are also developing two new CPS victim letters - an introductory letter at the point of referral from the police and a letter at the point of charge.
We will undertake user needs research to understand how best to communicate with victims and witnesses, to perfect our letters - this will include a complete review of the Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) scheme as per the 2020 HMCPSI report. We will also use victims’ experiences to enhance training for RASSO staff.
We have also just published a national framework outlining a baseline standard for how we work with Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs), who are invaluable in improving victim confidence, experience and participation with the criminal justice process. This is being implemented locally in all CPS Areas. Under Operation Soteria we are also exploring more innovative ways to communicate with victims and improve the victim experience of the system.
Immediately, the CPS should review and update the information on the policy for prosecuting cases of rape that is available to the public. The information provided about how the CPS deals with cases of rape must be accurate. Victims and those who support them must be able to rely on the information provided to inform their decisions.
We accept this recommendation. Development of a new RASSO public policy statement to improve public understanding of how the CPS deal with and prosecute these cases is already underway as part of our CPS RASSO 2025 actions. The policy statement is currently being tested with external stakeholders and will be published in Summer 2021.
The CPS have also published updated rape and serious sexual offences legal guidance on 21 May 2021. The updated guidance aims to further equip and support the efforts of our RASSO prosecutors to build a greater proportion of code compliant RASSO cases that are prosecuted. The new guidance takes on board considerations from a wide range of victim support groups, psychologists and the legal community, following a public consultation launched in October 2020.
As part of the JNAP, work is already underway to provide victims with clear information about the various stages of the criminal justice process through the production of online and offline information products, including the development of a ‘digital walkthrough’ for rape victims, to help them navigate the criminal justice process and signpost access to support services. This will be launched soon. Together with the police, we are also developing a national leaflet for RASSO victims.
Immediately, the College of Policing and the NPCC lead for adult sexual offences should review the 2010 ACPO guidance on the investigation of rape in consultation with the CPS. The information contained in available guidance must be current to inform effective investigations of rape and provide the best service to victims.
We accept this recommendation and we will support our police colleagues in their review and updating of this guidance.
The College of Policing, NPCC lead for adult sexual offences and the CPS should prioritise action to provide joint training for the police and the CPS on the impact of trauma on victims, to promote improved decision-making and victim care.
We accept this recommendation and more widely we agree that joint training between the police and CPS is vital to improve investigations and prosecutions. As part of this work the CPS and police are jointly holding an online conference, ‘Closing the Gap: Supporting you in RASSO Investigations and Prosecutions’ between 12 July and 10 September 2021. The conference will be made up of a series of pre-recorded webinars on topics such as supporting victims and casework quality and will be available for all rape investigators and prosecutors in England and Wales.
An action within the JNAP is aimed at improving staff understanding of the neurological impact of trauma. Earlier this year, new mandatory training for prosecutors covering the neurological impact of trauma on memory was launched. To date more than half of all CPS rape prosecutors have completed this training.