Prosecutions for Rape, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 7th January 2014.

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Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 11:30 am, 7th January 2014

If he will take steps to ensure that the causes of the recent decline in prosecutions for rape, child abuse and domestic violence are investigated.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

If he will take steps to ensure that the causes of the recent decline in prosecutions for rape, child abuse and domestic violence are investigated.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

In September the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, chaired a meeting with the Home Office and national police leaders, the outcome of which was a six-point action plan to investigate and increase the number of rape and domestic violence cases that are referred by the police to the CPS for charging decisions.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

What recent discussions has the Solicitor-General had with Home Office Ministers about the fall in the number of referrals of rape, domestic violence and child abuse cases to the CPS?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I have not engaged in any specific bilateral discussions, but I am a member of a number of Government committees that discuss these matters, including the committee that deals with violence against women and girls. There are falls in the number of referrals, which the six-point action plan is addressing, but it is worth pointing out that the rates of convictions for domestic violence, rape and child sex abuse are at record highs.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Opposition Whip (Commons)

What has been the impact of the closure, under the present Government, of 38 out of 39 joint police-CPS offices nationwide on the close co-operation between police and prosecutors that is so vital in relation to this very sensitive subject?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I agree that close co-operation between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is important. As the hon. Lady will know, there are rape and serious sexual offence units that are combined. However, there are advantages in a more efficient system and a cluster of excellence in the CPS, and the view is that, on balance, the way in which the system is currently developing is more efficient and effective.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on the progress that has been made in ensuring that the court process is less traumatising for victims, especially victims of child sexual exploitation. The greater profile that is now given to some of those cases is a sign of that success.. However, will my hon. and learned Friend tell me what work he is doing with, in particular, children’s charities and child protection professionals with the aim of communicating to some of the victims the information that the court process is now less traumatising and more user-friendly, so that more of them will be encouraged to take their cases all the way to court and appear as witnesses, rather than being scared off and allowing the perpetrators to get off?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The inter-departmental committee on violence against women and girls, which I mentioned earlier, is involved with representatives of various organisations who attend its meetings, so there is that connection. The new guidelines on child sex abuse that were issued last October are intended to bring about a big change in the way in which such cases are dealt with. They recommend an holistic approach and consideration of the credibility of the allegation rather than just the credibility of the witness, and I think that that will help a great deal.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

In July 2012, Canadian police closed a child abuse network. They released hundreds of children and passed 2,345 names of suspects to British police, who then did absolutely nothing for 16 months. What assessment has the Solicitor-General made of the effect that that has had on the number of successful prosecutions?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The way in which the police investigate cases is independent. The hon. Gentleman could raise it with the Home Secretary, but it is not dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service. The new CPS guidelines constitute a major step forward, as do the new national network of rape and child sex abuse prosecutors, which provides a source of expertise on such offences in each area. That will lead to more effective prosecutions.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Attorney General

One of the reasons for the decline in the number of prosecutions for child abuse is that the police are not referring as many cases to the Crown Prosecution Service despite the fact that the numbers remain constant, but the other major factor is that local authorities are not co-operating with the Crown Prosecution Service. Was the Minister as shocked as I was to discover that in the past three years two thirds of councils have refused to disclose information to the police and to the CPS in child abuse cases? Does he think in future he should monitor this, rather than leave it to me, through the Freedom of Information Act, to discover that information, and will he consider making disclosure compulsory in future if this situation does not improve?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

In fact, the Attorney-General and I have been concerned about this issue and as a result Her Majesty’s inspectorate of the CPS has undertaken a report on disclosure, which was published recently. It is a matter that needs to be addressed. Having said that, the new protocol and the way in which the various authorities are coming together on this is encouraging. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says something from a sedentary position which I cannot hear, but I assure her that all efforts are being made—

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Attorney General

I said they are not coming together.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I do not want to get into pantomime mode and say, “Oh yes they are,” but the fact of the matter is that considerable progress is being made.