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Sexual Offences: Conviction Rates

Attorney General – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 25th February 2016.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 9:30 am, 25th February 2016

What steps the Government have taken to improve the conviction rate for rape and serious sexual offences.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The CPS has undertaken a considerable amount of work to place priority on the improvement of rape prosecutions.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I thank the Solicitor General for his admirably brief reply. He will know that despite claims of the highest number of convictions ever, convictions for rape, domestic abuse and other sexual offences have fallen. I work closely with Sheffield Rape Crisis, which tells me that there is a real postcode lottery in terms of support for victims, and if victims are not supported they are less likely to come forward. What discussions has the Solicitor General had with the Home Secretary to ensure adequate funding for sexual violence advisers?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I work regularly with colleagues in the Home Office to look at a wide range of measures that need to be put in place to give support to victims of sexual offences. I remind him that in terms of absolute volumes, conviction rates continue to rise and are the highest ever. I assure him that the CPS has now engaged 102 specialist prosecutors in its RASO—rape and sexual offences—units to place proper priority on the swift and effective prosecution of these serious cases.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

In our enthusiasm to get convictions where they are deserved, can the Solicitor General make sure in his discussions with the Home Office that other parts of the system, particularly the police, do not lose their commitment to justice, and that, while they must owe a proper duty to the complainant, they should not simply ignore potential exculpatory evidence in their investigations?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I reiterate that the police should follow the evidence wherever it leads. There should be no presumptions of truth or otherwise and they should objectively and fairly investigate cases before presenting them to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

Is the Solicitor General aware that Scotland’s conviction rate for rape and sexual offences has increased significantly over the past few years as a result of setting up a centralised national sexual crimes unit in Edinburgh, in which the specialist prosecutors oversee the prosecution of all sexual crime across Scotland? I am sure that Scotland’s Law Officers would be very happy if England’s Law Officers wanted to visit and learn more about it.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising that matter. The scale involved in England and Wales is slightly bigger, so they have taken the regional unit approach, but I entirely agree with her about the need to standardise practice. The Attorney General and I are always very conscious of that in our conversations with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief executive of the Crown Prosecution Service, and work is being done to improve that standardisation.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

In the latest thematic review of rape and serious sexual offence units, the CPS inspector found that the care given to victims of rape and sexual assault

“fell well short of what is expected”.

Is the Solicitor General concerned by Kevin McGinty’s findings that in some areas the CPS has stopped giving early investigative advice to the police because resources are overstretched?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I remind the hon. Lady that that report related to a particular period from a year to 18 months ago, and since then the CPS has taken huge strides both in increasing the number of prosecutors and in improving the methods by which cases are assessed and managed.