Court delays preventing rape victims from coming forward, says senior police commander

17 May 2024, 06:14

Court delays are preventing rape victims from coming forward, a senior police commander has said.
Court delays are preventing rape victims from coming forward, a senior police commander has said. Picture: Twitter/LBC
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

One of the country's most senior and experienced police commanders has told LBC chronic court delays in England and Wales are preventing rape victims from reporting the crime.

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Commander Umer Khan OBE, of the City of London Police, told LBC the reluctance of victims to come forward because of huge court backlogs is a "real sad indictment on our criminal justice system".

It comes after the government triggered an emergency measure on Wednesday and ordered courts to delay starting some cases, to manage overcrowding in England's jails.

In response, justice minister Laura Farris said she would like to see rape cases prioritised in the Crown Courts, but "listing is a matter for the judiciary".

Some survivors have reported waiting up to eight years for their case to reach trial, with the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice showing 2,785 adult rape cases were outstanding at Crown Court at the end of 2023.

That figure has almost doubled since the end of 2021, when 1,377 adult rape cases were awaiting completion at Crown Court.

Operation Early Dawn will see some defendants in police custody remain there rather than being transferred to magistrates’ court for bail hearings.

Read more: 'A plaster on a gaping wound’: Prison union boss slams ministers as court dates delayed with 'jails to be full by June'

Read more: Court delays imposed after emergency measure triggered to cope with overcrowding in England's prison

The Law Society insisted the most serious cases would be prioritised, with some lower level offenders released on bail.

Commander Khan said: "There continues to be barriers which limit the opportunity for victims to obtain the justice they require, and unfortunately a lot of these will be upstream in the criminal justice processes - delays around courts, the cases and the listings.

"I know partners across London are working very hard to address these issues, but this is one area where focus is required. It's how quickly we can get cases in to courts for them to listen to the cases, hear the evidence and deliver the justice.

"In my experience, these delays often cause victims to not wish to go through with the criminal justice outcomes, and continue to hamper their confidence in the system."

He was speaking during a visit by Victims and Safeguarding Minister Laura Farris, who said "as much as I would actually like to see [rape] cases prioritised", she'd have to leave it to the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk and the Lady Chief Justice.

But Ms Farris said the Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales has committed to listing 181 rape cases that have been outstanding for more than two years by July.

Victims Minister on court delays

"The reason we have Crown Court delays is because we made the difficult but necessary decision to continue with full jury trials during the pandemic... inevitably that has meant there is a backlog in the courts," she said.

"What we're doing, first of all, we've made a commitment to the lawyers - we've increased their pay by 15%. We're on track to recruit 1,000 more judges through the criminal justice system working in the crown court, and we have maintained all of the nightingale courts."

There have been improvements in police investigations, with a 142% increase in the number of adult rape cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service between the end of 2020 to December 2023.

And more suspects are being charged. Charges for sexual offences in the year to December 2023 were up by 18% compared with the previous year, and adult rape charges increased by more than a third in the same period.

But Commander Khan acknowledged victims are "still lacking in confidence to come forward", and urged them to "please give us the opportunity to investigate what has happened".

"If you have such a horrific and unfortunate encounter in the City of London, I will personally give that commitment - come forward, and if you have complaints, I can personally say we will investigate those and give them a response that will be worthy of their time," he said.

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