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I welcome the review into rape cases conducted by my Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman; London’s first. It amplifies the experience of victims of one of the most heinous and harmful crimes. This excellent work is helping to drive change at a national level and is exactly the kind of work envisaged when I created the post of a Victims’ Commissioner for London.
This dark report highlights the urgent work needed across the criminal justice system to ensure victims achieve swifter justice and are supported throughout the process. It is shocking that 58% of victims feel unable to continue and withdraw from the process and only 3% of reported rapes result in conviction; it is even less around the country. The review uncovered key learnings such as showing that if victims had easily accessible, appropriate and timely information with trauma‑informed support then chances of withdrawal decrease. This insight has already been taken forward through additional money allocated from our Violence Against Women and Girls Fund to improve and increase capacity at the London Havens, including helping provide video‑recorded interviews and early evidence kits.
More generally, I am pleased that all parties have welcomed the report and are committed to working with the Victims’ Commissioner. Working together we can ensure that victims are not forced to choose between their right to privacy or access to justice, or feel they have to withdraw in order to access support for their recovery. My Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime will be convening a Justice Matters [meeting] as an opportunity for partners to come together to discuss the recommendations and agree an action plan.
Thank you for that, Mr Mayor. I am going to put two questions to you. There was a report released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) this morning showing that despite increases in the number of offences fewer cases are going to court than ever before. This is clearly a national problem. The average amount of time for a survivor to reach a trial outcome in London was in the region of 18 months, clearly unacceptable. The Victims’ Commissioner was before the Police and Crime Committee last week. She told us that this rate had gotten worse after the disclosure issues arising from the well‑known case of R v Allan. What can reduce the time it takes for a decision to be made in court?
This is a really important point. One of the things I have done is - despite objections from some in this Assembly - increase the amount of money we give to victims and survivors to help pay for Independent Sexual Violence Advocates, which is really important, and to support London Havens. More support for victims and survivors is important. Also we need to speed up the time between a report being made to police and it reaching trial; which means the police, the CPS and the courts condensing the length of time it takes for a trial to reach court. In my view we should have swifter justice than we currently do. It is hardly surprising that somebody who has made a complaint may not proceed with it if it takes 18 months between making the complaint and it reaching trial. It is a very, very stressful and really anxious time and you can understand why victims and survivors do not want to relive the trauma.
There are specific things that can be done, as you yourself said, which will help victims decide to go forward with allegations and we have talked about the length of time. For instance - I think the Victims’ Commissioner talked about this - if the survivor participated in a video‑recorded interview they are six times less likely to withdraw from the process. Are there any other form of actions you think we can take to reduce the number of allegations?
This is a really important point here, Chair. I was criticised by some Members for MOPAC giving money to those who are the victims of violence against women and girls and criticised for investing in these projects. It is really important we do so and you highlight the reasons why. The Havens, which we support from MOPAC, help pay for support and help with video‑recorded interviews and forensic medical suites that are so, so important. We do need more resources. It is a travesty that there is a waiting list in some of our rape crisis centres and people cannot receive the help they need. That is one of the reasons why I had the new funding in the last financial year, to help them deal with the waiting list.
‑‑ and it is like a sense of déjà vu.
Yesterday there was a report about the increase in reported homophobic hate crimes. The picture is the same, the level of prosecutions has actually gone down by half. I will be writing to the CPS in due course.
From the victims’ perspective the reasons for withdrawal are stress, trauma, lack of police contact, lack of information and the sheer length of time it takes for investigation. The CPS, this is the report that came out this morning, seems to be blaming the police. It is saying it has fewer rape referrals, a 12% fall from the previous year, and cases are taking longer because of digital evidence and demands for discovery from the defence. Campaigners from End Violence Against Women are now blaming the CPS, they are saying CPS lawyers have quietly changed their approach, are no longer building rape prosecutions and are screening cases out if they think it will not convict. It is basically this pattern of people passing the blame on to other agencies. This really has to stop.
It is heart breaking because we heard these same points made 20 years ago. The good news is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Commissioner have discussed this issue, and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the Victims’ Commissioner have discussed this issue. I think the CPS and the police understand the importance of working together to get the right conclusion.