Rape victims 'continually and systemically failed' by justice system, watchdog finds

25 February 2022, 00:06 | Updated: 25 February 2022, 00:23

A report has found the criminal justice system is failing victims of rape
A report has found the criminal justice system is failing victims of rape. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Rape victims are being "continually and systematically failed" by the criminal justice system, a scathing root-and-branch watchdog examination has found.

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Inspectors highlighted a lack of collaboration between the police and prosecutors, and poor communication with victims - including minimal updates about how their cases were progressing.

It also took an average of nearly two years (706 days) between reporting an offence to police and the start of a criminal trial, according to the report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI).

One case took 16 years to reach court due to "an apparent lack of evidence", despite the presence of DNA at the scene.

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Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, and Andrew Cayley QC, HM Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate, said: "Rape victims are continually and systematically failed by the criminal justice system.

"We found many hardworking professionals who are dedicated to supporting victims and pursuing perpetrators, but we also found some deep divisions between the police and prosecutors which must be overcome."

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The report made a number of recommendations, including creating either temporary or permanent specialist rape courts within the next three months to help clear the case backlog.

It also suggested the police and the CPS should work together to ensure that a defendant's "bad character" is considered in all rape cases, and progressed wherever it is applicable, amid anecdotal evidence prosecutors and investigators were often missing opportunities to present such evidence before the courts.

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The report examined 556 files from the police and the CPS, evidence from interviews, and survey responses from 135 survivors and victim support services.

It echoed the long-held concern that victims often felt they were the ones being investigated or standing trial, rather than the focus being on the accused.

Others said they felt "angry and let down" after not being contacted by the police or the CPS at the conclusion of their case.

The Government apologised following the publication of its long-awaited Rape Review last summer, and said it aimed to reverse its dire record on serious sexual offending, which has seen convictions plummet.

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Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, this week acknowledged there was "a crisis of public trust" over how the criminal justice system deals with rape and sexual assaults.

Figures released earlier this year showed that in the 12 months to September 2021, only 1.3 per cent of the 63,136 rape offences recorded by police resulted in a suspect being charged.

Friday's joint report acknowledged the good work of "many dedicated and hardworking police officers and prosecutors committed to the investigation and prosecution of rape", amid sometimes "overwhelming" workloads.

But its overriding finding was of a system in need of widespread reform.

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It also included testimony from rape survivors, who described their arduous wait for justice.

One survivor told the report investigators: "It was ridiculous how long it took.

"Because he was out there drinking around females. He was able to go abroad on holidays.

"I thought, how is it that I am here, I am financially ruined, I am severely traumatised, and barely keeping it together, and yet the system allows him to just go off and do what he wants?"

In October, the Government pledged to increase annual funding for Ministry of Justice victim support services to more than £185 million by 2024/25 - an 85 per cent increase on funding in 2019/20, while an additional 115 prosecutors have been trained in how to deal with rape and sexual assault cases.

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year.