To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take (1) to increase the number of rape prosecutions, and (2) to provide more support for women and men affected by rape.
My Lords, the 2021 End-to-End Rape Review Action Plan committed us to double the number of adult rape cases reaching court by the end of this Parliament, back to 2016 levels. We have since seen an increase in both prosecutions and convictions. Actions taken include establishing the criminal justice dashboard; funding Operation Soteria, making police investigation suspect-focused; providing the rape and sexual abuse support fund; launching a 24/7 rape and sexual abuse support line; and completing the rollout of pre-recorded cross-examination, so that victims no longer must face the courtroom but can be cross-examined beforehand.
I thank the Minister, but under this Government, conviction rates for rape have reached historic lows, with only 1.3% of recorded rapes resulting in a charge. MoJ data from June of this year showed that 28% of 53,000 outstanding Crown Court cases were for alleged sexual offences, with up to five years before anything reaches the court. Some 65% of cases analysed in London last year ended in victim withdrawal, revealing a lack of high-quality victim care in the justice system. What other plans do the Government have to improve this shocking situation?
My Lords, first and with respect, we are making progress on this matter. Your Lordships will perhaps recall that, after 2016 and the Allan case, where a prosecution collapsed for lack of disclosure, prosecutions for rape fell until 2019. Then we had the pandemic. That is why the Government are now committed to returning to 2016 levels.
I will give one example of progress. In 2016, a total of 766 rape cases per quarter were referred by the police to the CPS. In Q2 2022, we had 901 such referrals, up on 2019 by 97% and even up on 2016 by 18%. Many other examples can be seen on the criminal justice system delivery data dashboard at justice.gov.uk, to which I respectfully refer your Lordships. You can see the progress we are making on every offence, across every region of the country. That is a considerable achievement and I commend it to your Lordships. In response to the noble Baroness, I do not doubt that difficulties remain, but we are making progress.
My Lords, an accusation of rape is a very serious matter for both the victim and the accused. I have repeatedly asked for a breakdown of figures for rape cases where the defence is consent and where there is a failure to convict—a situation of which I have long experience. Will the Minister go back to the Attorney-General, who supervises the CPS, to ask why these figures cannot be provided? This may be the heart of the problem.
My Lords, many victims of rape are reluctant to follow through on prosecutions because they need medical and other care, and they want to be believed. A report from over 20 years ago by a policeman whom we may know, one Brian Paddick, and the academic Betsy Stanko, led to the establishment of sexual assault referral centres across England. But this year, an NHS survey found that 72% of victims are unaware that this support is available. If more victims knew about and used these centres, would more successful prosecutions not follow?
My Lords, the Government are making every effort to increase support for victims of rape and sexual assault. We now have a 24/7 helpline, as I said, have increased recruitment of ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers—and the rape support fund is £21 million this year. So I hope we will be able to address the point the noble Baroness raised, of which I take good note.
My Lords, can the Minister assure me that the number of women who are not able to communicate, as English is not their first language, is also collected in the data that my noble friend mentioned? How are we monitoring whether women from communities that cannot communicate fully in English are fully supported by the systems?
My Lords, some police officers spend more time considering the credibility of the victim than the rape allegation made. They unreasonably snoop through women’s mobile phone messages and emails, downloading their entire history. Perhaps they think they can get away with it. Will the Government implement the recommendation made by Vera Baird, the former Victims’ Commissioner, to provide legal aid solicitors to rape victims, who can challenge unreasonable demands made by the police?
A legal aid solicitor ought to be able to challenge unreasonable demands by the police under the existing regime. However, I refer this House to Operation Soteria, which is directed to the very point that the noble Baroness makes about the focus on the victim rather than the suspect. It started as a pilot with Avon and Somerset Police, is gradually being rolled out nationally to 19 police forces, and should turn the approach around so that it focuses on the suspect, not the victim.
The Government hope to bring forward the victims Bill as soon as possible but have no present plans to change the legislation on violence against women or, indeed, anybody else.
My Lords, many women are facing a crisis of trust and confidence in the criminal justice system at the moment. I appreciate that the Minister is relatively new to this arena. However, there are people who believe that rape has effectively been decriminalised in our jurisdiction. That is a very serious matter. Would he consider meeting me, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—who is not in her place—other interested Members of your Lordships’ House and victims’ groups, including the Centre for Women’s Justice, to hear their experience before taking this work further forward?
I would certainly be prepared to meet the noble Baroness and others and, on that occasion, take everyone through the steps that we are taking to combat this problem.
My Lords, in January this year, the Ministry of Justice said in answer to a Parliamentary Question from the shadow Attorney-General, Emily Thornberry, that the typical delay between an offence of alleged rape occurring and the completion of the resulting criminal trial was 1,000 days. That is a shocking statistic. What is the Ministry of Justice doing about this?
There are several steps. There is the reference from the police to the CPS, the CPS charging decision, the CPS bringing a case, the delay in the court and so forth. Delays in the court are still a problem and have unfortunately been made worse by the barristers’ strike. Other delays have been reduced. All I can say to the noble Lord is that we are working as hard as we can to address this problem.
My Lords, I am concerned that the Minister’s ambition seems to be to get back to the figures from 2016. Those who work with children, young women and women who have been abused, sexually and in other ways, know that the numbers misrepresented the problem that was out there even in 2016. A recent report from Agenda looks particularly at young women. It is searing about the experiences across the board, particularly in ethnic minorities. Unless support is there earlier, those young women and other women will not get near justice. The Government really need to take that into account.