The Victims’ Commissioner has today blasted ‘utterly shameful’ rape conviction figures as they fell to a record low.
Dame Vera Baird hit out after shocking Home Office data showed just 1.4 per cent of rapes recorded by police led to prosecution in the 12 months to March.
The number of reported rapes fell from 55,771 to 55,130 offences during the same period.
The Crown Prosecution Service today set out a five-year plan to reverse the decline in the number of sex offenders being jailed, but Dame Vera insisted action needed to be taken immediately, not further down the line.
She said: ‘These rape statistics are utterly shameful with 1,500 fewer rapists being convicted than three years ago. Rape is a serial offence and rapists carry on until they are stopped.
‘The CPS have to change its practice in rape now, not in half a decade. There is no complexity in why rape prosecutions and convictions have crashed.’
Experts believe there are several reasons behind the low conviction rate.
Victims have complained about ‘digital rape’ as police demand to go through their phones and social media accounts while investigating cases – leading some complainants to drop out of potential prosecutions.
And in November it was revealed that prosecutors had been operating a secret 60 per cent conviction target – meaning they were unwilling to take cases to court if they were not considered ‘slam dunk’ prosecutions.
Meanwhile a recent law change has led to more suspects being released without bail, taking pressure off prosecutors to examine cases promptly and allowing cases to drift, campaigners say.
CPS data today also showed just 1,439 alleged rapists were convicted of rape or lesser offences in the last 12 months – down 25 per cent from the previous year.
It comes amid a push by prosecutors to bring more sex offenders to justice – days after watchdogs said rape had in effect been ‘decriminalised’.
The CPS has pledged to ‘reduce the gap’ between cases reported by victims and the number that reach court.
Completed prosecutions also reached a record low, with 2,102 in the last 12 months, compared to 3,034 in the previous year, a fall of around 31 per cent.
Dame Vera added: ‘It is a policy by CPS only to take only rock-solid prosecutions as set down in a CPS document in 2016/17 by the director of legal services and personally driven by him nationwide.
‘The Director of Public Prosecutions could reverse that immediately and he has been asked to do so by the rape campaigners for the entire time he has been in post.
‘For the sake of getting a higher rate of convictions the CPS have cut the volume of cases they charge leaving thousands of rape complainants without the chance of justice, even in cases when they appear to have a strong evidential case. The bowing to rape myths must end.
‘I suggest the DPP should announce the end to that policy today and then a ‘blueprint’ for CPS further improvement can be taken seriously.
‘Before this change of policy CPS were rising to the challenge and increasing prosecutions and convictions at the same time.
‘They saw rape as a challenge where now they’re told to see it as a barrier. There are some excellent people in the CPS and it needs this policy to be reversed to ensure that they can do the good job of securing justice which they want to do,’
The DPP, Max Hill QC, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I do accept the scale of the problem but we must also accept if we are talking about that, that looking back three or four years some serious mistakes were also being made.
‘There were cases going to court which shouldn’t have been going to court, so we have had to eradicate that as well.’
The CPS figures also show a drop in the number of rape cases referred to the CPS by police, with 2,747 in the last 12 months, down from 3,375 the previous year – around a 19 per cent decrease.
And the average time for the police and CPS to bring a charge increased to 145 days, compared with 108 in 2018/19.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) described the fall in the number of convictions as ‘very concerning for us’.
A joint statement from the NPCC’s leads for rape, domestic abuse and charging said there are a number of reasons for the drop in referrals, many due to the way forces work, but that police have been working with the CPS to ‘streamline’ the process.
‘However, we are hearing from our officers that it is becoming harder to achieve the standard of evidence required to charge a suspect and get a case into court,’ a statement said.
‘Victims tell us clearly how important it is to them to have the evidence tested in this way.
‘Investigators are working incredibly hard to try and reach that standard, but in some occasions when they are unable to do so they are taking local decisions through gatekeepers and supervisors.
‘We are also concerned about the increasing length of time it is taking to reach the point of charge. Many issues are contributing to this including more cases, more material and evidence to gather and the high evidential threshold we need to meet.’
The CPS said it was ‘working hard to reverse the trend we’ve seen in recent years’ as a new five-year strategy was unveiled to improve the rate of conviction in rape cases.
This includes a joint action plan with police and giving officers legal advice early in investigations.
Mr Hill also said more alleged rape victims should be allowed to pre-record evidence to avoid coming to court for trial, and victims who do need to attend should be offered a ‘digital walkthrough’ of the process so that they know what to expect.
He said ‘trends are moving in the right direction’, pointing to a rise in the proportion of cases referred to the CPS by police that result in charges.
‘I’m very anxious to ensure that everyone understands that the Crown Prosecution Service, just like our partners in the police and everybody else involved in dealing with these truly awful crimes, is keen to do more, to look further and to work harder to improve in the interests of the whole system,’ he said.
‘What I’m saying today in launching our rape and sexual offences strategy for five years through to 2025 is that the CPS will continue to develop, to train our people and to work out how to help individuals and their cases to come through the criminal justice system.
‘We need to continue to achieve a balance between the needs and the rights of victims and those of suspects, but if we work harder we will see continuing improvement.’
Earlier this month, a report from Dame Vera warned that the country is in effect witnessing ‘the decriminalisation of rape’ and women’s groups said the latest figures show this is continuing.
End Violence Against Women director Sarah Green said: ‘We have seen a vacuum of leadership and accountability within the CPS when it comes to rape, with no recognition of the harm done to the thousands of survivors being failed by the system.’
According to a report from the Police Foundation published on Wednesday, the number of rapes reported to police rose by 260% between 2013 and 2019.
But data from the Home Office showed that in the 12 months to March just 1.4 per cent of 55,130 offences recorded by police led to prosecution.
Of the cases that were closed, 41 per cent collapsed because the victim did not support further action.