Before I call the Lord Chancellor, I wish to remind Members that the House’s sub judice resolution means that reference should not be made to any case in which proceedings are active in the United Kingdom courts.
I would like to make a statement on the Government’s end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions. Rape and sexual assault are some of the most horrific offences dealt with by our criminal justice system. They can leave devastating effects on victims for life. While the majority of victims of rape are women, this crime can have a devastating effect on male victims as well. Over the last five years, we have seen an alarming decline in the number of police referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions for these sorts of crimes—a trend that the Government are determined to reverse with urgency. I want to pay tribute to the bravery of victims and to commend their courage in coming forward to report these crimes. It is crucial that the system gives all victims the reassurance that they will be believed and that they will receive the right support, right from the moment they report their crime through to the conclusion of their case and beyond.
In March 2019, the national criminal justice board commissioned the first ever end-to-end review of how the criminal justice system handles rape cases. The rape review report and action plan outlines how we will act on its findings to deliver much needed improvements, building confidence in the system and encouraging more victims to come forward. That will enable cases that are better prepared from the start, more prosecutions of rapes, greater encouragement of early guilty pleas, and fair and timely trials. This has been a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office—I am grateful to the Solicitor General for being here today—the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, which is something that we believe will be crucial to its long-term success. Alongside the action plan, a Government social research report outlining the underlying primary research in detail is also being published. I have laid that report before the House.[This section has been corrected on
Our action plan sets out a robust and ambitious programme of work to improve the way in which the criminal justice system responds to rape at every stage in the process, so that victims are better supported to get the justice they deserve and so that all our constituents can have confidence that perpetrators of these sickening crimes will be rightly punished. As the House will know, this has been a priority area for Government for some time, and I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the work already done, alongside the new actions that we are committed to delivering in the implementation of the review.
We appreciate that this is not the first piece of work in this area of criminal justice, and that both victims and stakeholder groups want change to happen as quickly as possible. The Government could not agree more, which is why the Minister for Crime and Policing will be personally pushing this work forward, and the Government will publish updates every six months detailing progress to ensure clear accountability. That will include scorecards monitoring progress against key metrics, including timeliness and victim engagement in each part of the system, and implementation of the action plan. Our ambition is for the volume of cases referred by the police for charging decisions and reaching court to return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.
One of the key themes of the review is how we can create the conditions that will enable effective joint working between the police and CPS. It launched its joint action plan in January this year. That will enable both the police and CPS to work hand in glove to support rape victims and to secure convictions. In the implementation phase of the review, we plan to introduce joint decision-making guidance for CPS and police investigation teams that will be implemented as part of a necessary culture change. We will also build on the shared learning and development in the form of training and guidance around trauma, to develop understanding of its effect on victims right across the system. In the next 24 months, we will have a framework for a new operating model that can be adopted by forces nationally.
A key plank of our work to transform the way in which cases are dealt with is the pathfinder programme known as Operation Soteria, which is being launched to drive systemic and sustainable transformation in how the police and CPS handle investigations into rape and sexual offences. I am pleased to say that we have already begun to transform the support provided to victims by publishing a revised victims code, which sets out 12 clearly defined rights. We have invested record amounts in support over the last 18 months, including spending more than £70 million on rape and domestic abuse services in 2020-21 and £27 million on the expansion of the independent sexual violence adviser service—the ISVA service.
I accept that more needs to be done to reform support services to meet current and rising demand, and ISVAs play a crucial role. Research suggests that their involvement in the criminal justice system can make a victim 49% more likely to stay engaged and see their complaint through to its conclusions. With that in mind, we will shortly consult on a statutory underpinning for the ISVA role as part of the forthcoming victims Bill consultation. The police and CPS will work together to introduce minimum standards on how to communicate with ISVAs after a complaint is made, throughout the investigation process, through charging decisions and through court proceedings themselves. This will be done through a national framework to ensure that standards improve right across the country.
We are also committed to ensuring that no victim is left without a means of communicating through an extremely traumatic period in their life, which is why we are working to increase the capacity of the frontline technology used to examine digital devices. We will work with the mobile phone technology industry to support police efforts to provide swap-out phones for victims to use when their own devices are unavailable. Our ambition is that no victim will be left without a phone for more than 24 hours.
We recognise that the court experience can be particularly distressing. Last year, we rolled out section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 to help support children and vulnerable adult victims and witnesses to give their evidence and be cross-examined sensitively. We are already piloting the same arrangements for intimidated witnesses and victims in three locations, and plan to increase that pilot to three additional courts. Subject to that evaluation, we aim to commence full roll-out to all Crown courts for this group, and will consider whether any further legislative change is needed. We also plan to test the use of section 28 in the youth court.
We will continue to explore how we can increase the use of special measures in rape trials, and will develop a best practice framework for rape and sexual violence cases during court proceedings. Additionally, we have asked the Law Commission to explore the use of rape myths and evidence about victim credibility at court to see whether there are changes we can make there to improve the experience for victims and give them the opportunity to present their best evidence. In addition, the CPS has updated its legal guidance to address rape myths and stereotypes.
We will go further than the work outlined in the review; later this year, we will publish a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, and we will consult on the new victims Bill. I am sure that the whole House will join me in acknowledging the many people and organisations who are working tirelessly to improve the way in which these cases are handled. I thank the organisations in this field. Their expertise, research and challenge is invaluable. I am incredibly grateful to Emily Hunt in particular, who has been working as an expert adviser on the rape review, and ensured that the voice of victims was heard loud and clear as the Government considered their approach.
I reassure the House that if the proposed actions do not yield sufficient change in the timescales that we have set out, the Government are prepared to look at more fundamental changes to the criminal justice system, including measures to strengthen accountability and governance more widely. The review represents just the beginning of this work. We must continue to challenge the entire system to deliver urgent and sustained change. We owe that to every victim of these terrible crimes. Every part of the system can and must do better; now is the time for it to deliver. I commend this statement to the House.
Last week, the Secretary of State took the bold step of saying that he was “sorry” and “deeply ashamed” for how he and his Government had failed rape victims. “Sorry” is a word that we do not hear often in this House, and we certainly do not hear it enough. It is, frankly, a difficult word for politicians to say, but when a politician says sorry, it means they are taking responsibility and expressing regret for mistakes that have caused large swathes of the public to suffer.
The Secretary of State was right to apologise, but his apology has been made meaningless by his attempt to avoid taking responsibility over the weekend. Under his watch, the conviction and prosecution rates for rapists have fallen to a record low. In the year 2016-17, there were 41,616 rapes recorded in England and Wales—a third less than currently—and there were 5,090 prosecutions and 2,991 convictions. In 2019-20, the most recent year for which we have available data, the police recorded 55,130 rapes but there were only 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions. Rape convictions and prosecutions more than halved in just a few years, even despite the number of recorded rapes having rocketed upwards.
It is impossible to separate those appalling statistics from the decade of Conservative cuts that have accompanied them. Funding for the Ministry of Justice has fallen by 25% since 2010. When asked by the BBC whether the removal of funding for legal services was linked to the downward trends, the Secretary of State admitted that that is “self-evidently the case.” Ten years of cuts to the courts, legal aid, police and the Crown Prosecution Service have created an environment in which victims are denied justice and criminals are let off the hook. The Lord Chancellor swore an oath
“to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts”; clearly, he has failed.
After we have waited two years for the review to be published, its recommendations do not go far enough. Despite the Secretary of State’s having admitted that his funding cuts helped to cause the crisis, almost no new funding at all is announced in the review. The review lumps in spending on domestic violence and rape as a headline to misrepresent the truth; the reality is that the vast majority of the funding for refuge accommodation—which is of course vital—has nothing to do with increasing rape prosecutions or convictions. The only mention of new funding is the £4 million over two years for independent sexual violence advisers. That equates to £15 per rape victim for a year. Does the Secretary of State really think that is enough funding to address the failings that the report sets out?
The review mentions the pre-recording of evidence for intimidated victims, which is a vital reform, but why are the Government re-piloting the scheme for a further two years when they have piloted it twice already? Does the Secretary of State doubt that the current two-to-three-year waiting list to get a rape case to court is leading to many dropping out? Why are the Government not funding specialist units for rape cases throughout the country? The pilot in Avon and Somerset has been successful, but the Government are going to roll it out for only one year, among just four more police forces—more piecemeal pilots and nowhere near enough funding and long-term commitment to make any real impact. We know the problems, we have the answers and the technology is in place—what is the hold-up?
As the Opposition spokesman, it is my job to hold the Secretary of State to account. For his apology to have meaning, it needs accountability alongside it. In their rape review, the Government outline their commitment to return the volume of cases being referred by the police and charged by the Crown Prosecution Service and then going to court to at least
“2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.”
We in the Opposition said that by the end of this Parliament is not good enough. Rape victims cannot be forced to wait another three years for conviction and prosecution levels to return to 2016 levels. We demanded that the Secretary of State met the target within a year, but, bafflingly, his response was to describe such a target as “constitutionally illiterate”. We know that this failure affects several Departments. We know that the Crown Prosecution Service is independent, with oversight by the Attorney General’s office. We know that the police are overseen by the Home Office. But we also know that the health of the justice system as a whole has a huge impact on the likelihood of a victim pressing charges, the police charging a suspect and a conviction being secured. Victims are facing delays because of the Justice Department’s cuts to the courts and legal aid, and it is because of those delays that 44% of rape victims are pulling out of the justice system altogether.
In describing such a target as constitutionally illiterate, the Secretary of State suggested that the record low prosecution and conviction rates for rapes were out of his hands. That runs counter to his previous apology in which he took responsibility for them. Does he, or does he not, take responsibility for this Government’s hollowing out of the justice system? If not, does he intend to take his apology back? Do the Government intend to meet their target of returning the number of rapists who face justice to 2016 levels, or have they done a U-turn and scrapped that target?
The Secretary of State cannot show disdain for the constitution whenever it suits him and then blame the constitution when he is trying to defend his own failings. Enough is enough. Will he reverse these failures within a year, or will he resign?
This is a very, very important subject and it is quite right that we are having this statement, but there are other Members besides those on the Front Benches whom I need to hear from. It is important to all colleagues to get on the record, so please, whether we are talking about the Minister or the shadow Minister, we must stick to the time that the House has agreed to. It is not what I have agreed to, but what the House and Members have signed up to. Please, let us ensure that everybody gets a fair chance.
I am mindful of your stricture, Mr Speaker.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman very firmly about what I said? I rightly took responsibility and apologised for the overall failure that has led us to this situation. I do that as somebody who is politically responsible; I accept that without any qualification. I accept as well that resources are a matter for the Government, and I explained that, in the context of what we were left with, decisions were made back in 2010 that did indeed result in reductions. None the less, he will know as well that the issue with regard to the prosecution of rapes is not just about resources. It is about culture. It is about the way in which victims have, for far too long, been the focus of all attention. I know he agrees that that is inappropriate and that it is time for a much more perpetrator-focused approach.
When we calmly look at the figures for rape prosecutions over the past 10 or 15 years, we will see an encouraging rise from 2010 to about the middle of the decade, then a sustained improvement until about 2017-18, and then this very concerning decline that I have rightly acknowledged. That in itself tells us that something has happened here with regard to the way in which these cases are approached, and that has caused huge concern. There was a judicial review case about it that we are familiar with, which was hotly disputed between the Crown Prosecution Service and the sector, and, rightly, we waited for that to be concluded before we published this review. I say again to him what I said yesterday, which is that to in any way suggest that an increase in prosecutions and the bringing of cases should be linked to the fate or otherwise of a politician is constitutionally illiterate, dangerous, and the sort of approach that could lead to allegations of improper pressure being put on independent prosecutors.
I wonder whether, before he issued his public pronouncement, the right hon. Gentleman cleared it with his own boss. I can imagine the scene: me, as Lord Chancellor, speaking to the Director of Public Prosecutions in a way that would have crossed the line with regard to his prosecutorial independence; of course, Keir Starmer was the DPP, and I am pretty sure about the answer that I would have got from him. I think that the silence of the Leader of the Opposition on this matter speaks volumes.
This is a very important statement, and the Lord Chancellor knows that when he makes a bid for further funding for the justice system, there is compelling evidence from the Justice Committee’s evidence sessions to support that. In relation to the current issue, does he agree that one of the most striking figures is that of 52,000 cases reported as rapes or serious sexual offences, only 2,700 found their way to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has a high percentage of then charging? Does he agree that it is critical that the evidence file is available to the Crown Prosecution Service and that victims and complainants are treated sensitively? Can we find out more about what happened to the other 50,000 that never even made it to the stage of being considered by the CPS?
My hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee is right to point out the significant difference between the number of complaints that are made and the number of cases that reach their way to court. I have long harboured deep concerns about those early stages in the investigative process when a complainant or a victim comes forward with a complaint and then is made to make some very difficult choices, most notably about handing over a mobile phone. A young woman’s life will be on that phone. What replacement is she going to have, and how is she going to manage without such an important device? Very often that sort of Manichean choice is given, which is wholly wrong. That is why I think at the early stages of the investigation we need to do more to support victims, which is why I regard the investment in ISVAs as key to making sure that we can make a difference and reduce that cliff edge. I want to consult further on other aspects of support that we can give victims at the earliest stage to make sure that, when it comes to disclosure, the rights of victims are protected just as much as the rights of the accused.
I welcome the fact that the Justice Secretary has acknowledged the woeful failure of the justice system to protect women and girls from the abhorrent crime of rape. Will he recognise that one of the things that deters victims from supporting a prosecution is that, when it comes to trial, it is they who are put in the dock by having their sexual history being dragged out and being made the focus of the trial, instead of the focus being on the defendant and what he actually did? Will he address this by backing the new clauses that have been put forward on a cross-party basis to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will ensure that the defendants’ previous sexual history is only ever brought up in court when there has been a previous application to the judge, who has ruled that it is relevant to the particular issue on trial?
May I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Lady for her tireless work in this area? Indeed, she and I have regular dialogue about these issues and have done in the past. I will say several things in response. First, it is vital that existing protections are properly policed and used by the courts when it comes to restrictions on wholly inappropriate cross-examination. I have in particular asked the Law Commission to look at the whole issue about the trial process, and the rape myth issue that is still a real concern for many people who end up taking part in this process. But I will say this to her: I think it begins much earlier. I think the undue focus on the victim begins right from the initial investigation, and I think that that is wrong. I think that the proper emphasis in this report is about looking at the person who is alleged to have done it, rather than constantly focusing, as she rightly says, on irrelevant previous sexual matters that have nothing to do with the case and are an unwarranted intrusion into the private life of victims.
It is absolutely vital that there is a focus on offender behaviour rather than victim credibility, which is and will have been a significant factor as to why victims fear coming forward. The steps being taken on ensuring victims and witnesses can pre-record video evidence is welcome, but what will be done to extend this to all the courts so that all victims and witnesses can have access to this?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I say this: we have already rolled out the section 28 provisions to cover intimidated witnesses, many of whom will of course themselves have been the victims of sexual offences. We are going further: we are working very hard with the judiciary to pilot more use of the pre-recorded cross-examination technology in the case of intimidated witnesses. I have indicated that I will be prepared to legislate, if necessary, to ensure that we can fulfil the scale of my ambition, but I have to work closely with the judiciary to ensure that the operational realities—listing pressures and the sheer way in which we can accommodate these hearings—are fully taken into account as well.
It is of course vital that the charging and prosecution of rape cases improves dramatically, so that rapists are put in prison and survivors get justice, but we also need to stop rape and other forms of violence against women and girls happening in the first place, and that requires a cultural change across our society—all men and boys must understand that violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls is unacceptable. Does the Secretary of State agree that that cultural change must include making misogyny a hate crime, so that it is treated as severely as crimes motivated by racial or religious hatred, as well as better age-appropriate relationships and sex education in schools?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes some extremely relevant points and gets to the heart of the issue when it comes to the need to reduce the number of victims in the first place. I was very glad to hear her reference to the curriculum. A lot of work has been done to expand the curriculum on sex education and healthy relationships, and I pay tribute to the work not only of teachers, but of third sector groups that are campaigning actively to improve the quality of that provision. She will be glad to know that the violence against women and girls strategy, which was reopened in the wake of the appalling Sarah Everard killing, has received hundreds of thousands of responses. That is going to be the heart of the Government’s approach to prevention in order to achieve the goal that she and I share.
Most rape victims feel unable to pursue their case because they feel disbelieved or judged. That was highlighted in the DSD and NBV v. Met police in 2018. The words of DSD, who was a victim of John Worboys, were:
“The police made me feel that I’d made it all up.”
It meant that Worboys was able to go on and carry out 100 more rapes of women. The other victim, NBV, said that the police
“asked me whether I’d describe myself as a young lady who would wear red nail polish and red lipstick. They asked me how often I would go out drinking…The way they behaved made me feel like anything that had happened to me was because I deserved it.”
The behaviour of the police in this case is a stark demonstration of why so many victims give up, yet the Metropolitan Police Commissioner rebutted the case, saying that it made their job too difficult. Frankly, unless the senior management of the Met and other large police forces show a willingness to change and learn from these cases, I am afraid we will need to look for new senior management.
My right hon. Friend has very graphically illustrated some of the appalling experiences that many complainants and victims have undergone, and that is very much at the core of this review. We need to move away from the fixation with the credibility or believing of the victim and be much more about the perpetrator. If someone’s house is burgled, they do not expect to have a long trawl into their personal history and whether they had left an upstairs window unlocked or whether they had been drinking; it is about trying to find out who did it and who is responsible for the crime. It is that sort of approach that we need in rape and serious sexual offending.
The prevalence of rape myths and the lack of understanding of consent are known to act as barriers to justice for rape victims, and the Lord Chancellor rightly mentions the need for culture change. Will he therefore commit to bringing forward a strategy to provide training for the investigation of rape and alleged rape complaints, not only for the judiciary but for all jury members hearing such prosecutions?
The right hon. Lady is quite right to ask about the trial process. I think she knows that my fundamental view about this is that things go wrong well before cases get to court and that the gap between complaint and prosecution is the real problem. However, I fully take on board what she says. She will note that in the review we have committed to look very carefully—in fact, I have already asked the Law Commission to do this—at, to coin a phrase, the rape myth issue, to see whether the existing provisions are strong enough. I know that rape myths are already being challenged daily in our courts, but we want to look at whether more can be done, particularly on issues such as the assumption that a rape victim has to have some injury or bruising, which is clearly a misconception. A lot more can be done to dispel that myth with more comprehensive, perhaps medical evidence from the prosecution, but I look forward to working with the right hon. Lady, as I always do, on these important issues.
We know that all too often rape is committed by someone the victim knows. Because of that, investigations are incredibly hard to progress and are incredibly intrusive for the victim as well. Many victims disengage from the process, which means that we cannot move those cases forward. My right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement on ISVAs is therefore incredibly welcome, but improving criminal justice outcomes will be difficult without a substantial increase in their numbers and their capacity. What measures will he put in place to do that and improve outcomes for victims?
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the need for early support for victims. As I said in my statement, the evidence is clear that an ISVA can reduce quite dramatically the number of victims who drop their case. The funding that I have put in place will allow us to recruit an extra 700 ISVAs, and we will go further than that in the victims’ law consultation by creating a statutory framework within which the work of ISVAs can be recognised and a national standard set, to ensure a consistent approach across England and Wales.
The Home Affairs Committee will take evidence on the Government’s response from the Victims’ Commissioner, Emily Hunt, who advised the review, Imkaan and Rape Crisis on Wednesday. In 2014-15, I raised serious concerns with the Government about the drop in rape arrests at that time, which were already falling, and also warned about the hollowing out of specialist police teams and specialist prosecution teams working on rape, with fears for the consequences. However, none of us would have anticipated quite how far the numbers of prosecutions would then plummet. Can the Lord Chancellor tell me what assessment he has made of the number of specialist police officers and specialist prosecutors working in specialist rape teams and how it compares with five years ago, and if he has not, why not?
I take on board the proper points of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I do not have specific figures to hand, but I can tell her that the RASSO—rape and serious sexual offence—units have been working for a number of years, from right back before 2014, bringing the police and the CPS together. I think a couple of things combined to make the figures so alarming. Most notably, there were a number of cases towards the end of 2017—such as the Liam Allan case, which we remember—where there was a genuine concern on the part of those representing accused people that somehow there was an issue with disclosure and that disclosure was not being done properly and thoroughly. That has long been a concern of mine, and I initiated work as Solicitor General to improve the way in which the disclosure was effected. I think that has had a chilling effect upon the approach to many cases.
I do not think it is right for me to apportion blame to anybody—far from it—but there is no doubt that we need to move away from the swinging pendulum—either the perception that it is swinging too far in the direction of too many cases being brought without evidence, or too far the other way, where only the safest cases are being brought and not enough is being done in respect of the volume.
I will take on board the right hon. Lady’s points about arrests. I think she will be encouraged by the review, which is a clarion call for a change in culture and in a way that the police in particular deal with the early stages of the investigation, but I will be happy to engage further with her on the detail.
Following the John Worboys outrage, the Secretary of State was given the authority, through the reconsideration mechanism, to request that the Parole Board reconsider certain decisions. He does not need to apply the same high threshold as in judicial review grounds of law to deem a case irrational. I welcome the future root-and-branch review of the Parole Board, but will the Secretary of State confirm that he will stand by his welcome numerous references to being firm on those who commit the most egregious sexual offences and murders against women, and will he refer the appalling decision to release double child rapist and killer Colin Pitchfork back to the Parole Board?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s assiduous campaigning on this most grave and disturbing case. The decision to reconsider is one that I am looking at very carefully. I am taking the fullest advice and will make an announcement within the 21-day period, which will be very soon.
The Justice Secretary’s statement referred to rolling out the pilot to all Crown courts, but we all know that it will be rolled out immediately to only nine Crown courts out of 70-odd. On the basis that during the two years that it took to publish the review, there were 100,000 reported rapes, at what point will he reach every Crown court in the country?
The hon. Gentleman is right to press me on speed. I remind him that the decision to publish the rape review now was made in the light of a very important judicial review that was mounted by representatives of the sector; I listened to their representations and quite rightly waited for the outcome of that important case before publishing. However, I take the point. I am as anxious as he is to get on with things, but in respect of the section 28 roll-out I have to work hand in glove with the judiciary, who are operationally responsible: for example, a listing of a section 28 remote cross-examination will take some time in the court day. We have seen some really good examples in which it is working well, but I am listening very carefully to the judiciary’s observations about how it can be rolled out fully. I will push as hard as I can to achieve my personal ambition to see section 28 become the norm. Through the scorecard mechanism that we are introducing, we will be held accountable at regular intervals and he will have an opportunity to press me if he does not think that it is going fast enough.
I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. As he recognises, what is done in the preparation of a case matters at least as much as what is said in court, so I urge him to link closely the work that the Government are already doing on disclosure with the work that he has described this afternoon. However, as he also knows, what is said in court matters too. To reinforce the point that Liz Saville Roberts made, if we are to ensure that rape myths are properly challenged, will the Justice Secretary make sure that in his conversations with the judiciary he looks carefully at the judicial directions given to juries, and that if they need further refinement, they get it?
I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend, who as Attorney General worked very hard with me on the issue of disclosure and started the process that resulted in the revised Attorney General’s guidelines issued last year. He and I both know from our professional experience that a badly prepared and badly run case, in terms of disclosure, can be extremely destructive and frankly a miserable experience for those involved. He will be glad to know that we are not only pledging to ensure that victims’ phones are returned after no more than 24 hours, but working on new technology to ensure that analysis of data can happen that much more quickly. We want to ensure that 10,000 devices are examined through the year, rather than being left for months and months before the investigation can be taken further. On the court process, he will be glad to know of my decision to ask the Law Commission to look at some of the enduring issues surrounding the trial process, which I think will address many of his observations.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I was disheartened to hear that there are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape a year and that the reason that the figure is estimated is that less than 20% of victims of rape report to the police. Will the Secretary of State outline whether funding will be available to provide greater training for the first port of call in finding justice—the first police officer called to the scene—to help them to have a greater understanding of the needs of a rape victim in the first instance? Does he intend to provide additional funding for police forces throughout the UK to ensure that there are highly trained support-giving officers on every shift in every police district in every part of the United Kingdom?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I rightly have to speak about England and Wales as a jurisdiction, but I know these issues cover all three jurisdictions. There are plenty of examples of good practice where suitably trained police officers do that sort of work. We want to ensure greater consistency, and over and above the combined CPS-police working, I want more external scrutiny, in particular examining and looking at cases to ensure that all necessary evidence has been gathered, rather than the case being dropped. That aspect of challenging and testing the evidence will be an important plank of what I hope will be an increased number of cases. This is about confidence, and all Members of the House want to give those who have suffered at the hands of perpetrators the confidence they need to come forward. I accept that confidence has taken a huge hit in the last few years, and I hope that through my acknowledgement of that, and my willingness to take action—something I know is supported by Members across the House—we can start to grow confidence and improve that vital trust.
I hear many times from friends and constituents the perception that if someone is a victim of crime, a rape, coming forward and reporting that will be painful—Jim Shannon made that point. People feel they will not be trusted, and there is a barrier because people are not even coming forward to achieve the possibility of justice. How will the Lord Chancellor hold the system to account for the actions to which his Government have committed, to ensure that the report is delivered on, and those barriers broken down?
My hon. Friend is right to ask how we will measure this process; the scorecards, the data metrics, that will be published later this year will be a crucial way to do that. They will consider things such as victim engagement, the quality of files being processed, and the overall impact that that is having on the system. Those data will be an invaluable public source of accountability. I am prepared to go further. If we do not see the outcomes that I set out, we will of course have to look again at accountability issues. Given the excellent way that my hon. Friend opened her question, she will be glad to know that the CPS is in the process of developing new guidance for pre-trial therapy, counselling and support, with the aim of ensuring that victims get the support they need in a way that does not undermine or diminish the quality of their evidence. That could be a vital step forward for victims.
Darlington and County Durham’s rape and sexual abuse counselling centre is working with around 300 survivors. We know that 44% of rape victims pull out of the justice system before their day in court, and most never come forward to the police at all, with trauma being a major reason for that. What measures has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that sustainable funding for the mental wellbeing and support of victims is available at every point on the pathway to justice, and beyond?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I pay tribute to the work being done by agencies in Durham. As she rightly points out, that is an example of the very good practice we see in various parts of our country. She will be glad to note the increased funding that I announced for ISVAs, and our intention to go further in the victims’ law consultation to create a national statutory framework. She is right to press the issue of expenditure and funding, and in the past two years my Department has achieved, year-on-year, 5% increases in revenue funding. In the next spending review I intend to make a strong case for the need to ensure that the rape review, and its ambition, is met with results.
I have spoken to victims who were actually treated well by the police—they were looked after—but when the Crown Prosecution Service became involved, it all fell apart. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to improve collaboration between the police and the CPS so that victims get the full support that they need?
My hon. Friend rightly identifies the breakdown that can sometimes occur when one agency passes over responsibility to another. That should not be happening. There are plenty of examples where there is better practice, but it should be uniform. That is why, in the report, we place heavy emphasis on joint working between the police and the CPS to create a much more seamless approach to the support for victims. Victims find that if they have one main point of contact who is with them throughout the process, that makes things somewhat easier compared with the experience of others. That is a very important principle when it comes to the support that victims deserve. The victims code will, and does already with its improvements, set out fundamental and clear rights, and we will go further by enshrining those in legislation.
The review that the Secretary of State has presented quotes victims as reporting that the withdrawal of services in recent years has played a crucial part in their failure to secure a prosecution. He has said in the media in recent days that the lack of investment and the cuts in recent years have played a part in the fall in prosecutions, so if disinvestment in parts of the criminal justice system is part of the problem, why has he presented a plan to Parliament that includes almost no reinvestment in the system?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and, again, I pay tribute to the work that he has done on victims’ issues. Even though he has other responsibilities, I know that he will want to engage in the ongoing victims’ law consultation. I readily acknowledge some of the pressures and financial issues that have led to some services not being there, but some services were not even there in the first place. The number of ISVAs in the country is too low and that has historically been the case. I want to see not a return to a previous number but a new departure in the scale of support for victims. He will note the funding that I announced this year, which I want to follow up: I will continue to make the point and make the case that we need a sustained improvement in services to see long-term results. The hon. Gentleman’s voice is being heard.
None of what has been said so far is going to get us very far. It is absolutely intimidating for a woman—an alleged victim of rape—to have to go through a traditional court procedure. Can we not think, in really radical terms, of replacing this confrontational system with something more like the family courts? In the context of alleged rape, it is quite right that the victim has anonymity, but if the perpetrator had anonymity as well—if the case was not going forward in a blaze of local or national publicity—we might actually get closer to the truth.
My right hon. Friend posits a very interesting point about the merits of perhaps a more inquisitorial or consensual system than the adversarial system, but I remind him—of course, he was a practitioner as well—that allegations of a criminal nature have to meet a high standard of proof, and the burden of proof is on the prosecution in these cases. There is no getting away from that, which is why, progressively over the years, we have done everything we can to improve and to allow the best evidence to come forward from complainants through the use of special measures, remote technology and, indeed, the TV link, which has been around for 30 years. I want to go further with regard to that and make sure that evidence can be dealt with as early as possible. I will no doubt have further discussions about this issue with him, but at this stage I believe that we can seek improvement through the existing system while, as I say, dealing with some of the unfortunate consequences to which he rightly alludes.
This review applies to England and Wales only, but Scotland faces similar challenges. In 2009 I was privileged to be one of the first specialist sex crimes prosecutors in Scotland’s national sex crimes unit, and I am looking to its work being rejuvenated under the leadership of the Lord Advocate, my very dear friend Dorothy Bain QC. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that it is imperative for data accuracy, and for trust in official statistics, in public policy, in media reporting and in research and public bodies that the sex of those directly charged with rape or attempted rape is accurately recorded?
I join the hon. and learned Lady in her remarks about the Scottish system. I congratulate the new Lord Advocate and look forward to meeting her. As I have always said to the hon. and learned Lady, there is much that we can learn from the Scots and, I know, much that the Scots learn from England and Wales with regard to the prosecution of offences. [Interruption.] Oh, she must readily accept that. We were far ahead of the Scots with regard to rules on corroboration, for example. But it is not a competition; it is all about us learning jointly as part of our United Kingdom. With regard to the accurate reporting of gender, clearly the definition of rape itself will tell us about the sex of the perpetrator. That, in itself, should be the clearest indicator of the sex of the person who perpetrates these crimes. No doubt she and I will talk about this matter further. I think I know the drift of her question.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned that our lives are on our phones. Access to people who can give us comfort on our phones is greatly needed when going through a period of trauma, as are some of the victims of rape coming forward to the police. Can he give us more information about what he is doing to ensure that the ambition that phones will not be separated from victims for more than 24 hours will be achieved, and give us the timeline for that as well?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as a practitioner in the law, dealt with, in a family context, many of the consequences of serious sexual abuse. She will see that the report does include direct reference to our ambition to return phones within 24 hours, or to provide a swap-around service so that if the phone cannot be handed back, then a substitute will be given. However, this needs to go further with regard to investment in analytics. That is why this year I shall host a tech summit to bring together the sector in a way that can only lead to enhancements in the speed and quality of data analysis, because she is quite right that we need to improve that experience quickly.
I now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.