'Crisis of trust' over way justice system deals with rape and assault, CPS head says

22 February 2022, 09:29 | Updated: 22 February 2022, 09:40

By Emma Soteriou

There is "a crisis of public trust" over how the criminal justice system deals with rape and sexual assaults, the Director of Public Prosecutions has told LBC.

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Max Hill QC warned that victims could suffer more due to their experience with police, prosecutors and courts.

Only 1.3 per cent of the 63,136 rape offences recorded by police resulted in a suspect being charged.

It comes as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) updated its five-year plan to boost the number of cases coming to court, which was originally launched in July 2020.

In the update, Mr Hill said: "Rape is a truly devastating and life-changing crime.

"Victims of this most invasive abuse can suffer lasting trauma, and too often their experience of the criminal justice system adds to their suffering. I am determined to change that.

"Without doubt there is a crisis of public trust in the criminal justice response to rape and crimes of violence against women and girls. Too few victims are seeing justice done.

"The CPS has looked at every aspect of our work so we can drive up the number of rape cases going to court, and build confidence that all rape victims and suspects are treated fairly.

"We want to secure justice in every possible rape case, which means increasing significantly the number we bring to court, year on year."

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He told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "I think it is important to keep on saying that there is a crisis in public confidence.

"In the way that the criminal justice system deals with violence against women and girls and every component in the justice system needs to work together to bring about some real change.

"For our relationship with the police, that means going to the excellent police teams in London and around the country who do have a real appetite to improve just as we do.

"And at the earliest possible stage, say let's look at the investigations that are ongoing, let's look at how they can be improved, let's take an offender-centric approach, concentrating on what the offender did before, during and after the offence.

"Build strong cases. Get them into court."

He went on to explain why he had shared the report, saying: "Come and look at all the work we're doing, by all means we'll accept criticism, but just look at what we are doing because we believe that's going to make real change.

"Do not hesitate to make your complaint. Do not hesitate to come to the police.

"Know that it will be taken seriously and every time we have a case that can be converted into a charged case in court, that is what we'll do.

"We always do the same tests. If we have the evidence, and it’s in the public interest, we will prosecute."

The number of rapes and sexual assaults recorded by police in the year to September hit a record annual high last year, with 63,136 reported rapes and 170,973 sexual assaults.

However, the CPS update said that a very low proportion were referred to prosecutors, with 2,747 cases sent by police to the CPS out of a total 55,709 recorded rapes.

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Mr Hill said he was "frustrated" more than anything that damage to public confidence in the police - caused by several factors such as the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving officer Wayne Couzens - may make victims reluctant to come forward and support prosecutions.

"I am... deeply frustrated that for people at their time of greatest need, they may question whether it is right to come forward, to make a complaint to the police," he said.

"They may question whether the impact on their daily life is too great for them to support the prosecution that will follow.

"We should have a criminal justice system where everybody, and in this context it is mainly women, who has suffered some appalling events such as a rape should know that they can come forward, they can give their account, they will be supported when they give that account.

"There will be rigorous attention given to it and in every possible case that that account will be converted into a charge and a trial in court. That is what we are here to do.

"And all I can say is that I will continue to make this a personal focus for me as the director for as long as I'm here to work as many improvements as we can through the system, precisely to give people who have suffered confidence that there are solutions and that wherever possible, justice will be delivered for them."

Changes already made include fresh measures being trialled in five areas to make prosecutors and the police work more closely together from the early stages of an investigation as well as the introduction of scrutiny panels that review cases where officers have decided to take no further action to ensure that they made the correct choice.

A further 115 prosecutors have been trained in how to deal with rape and sexual assault cases, and 70 members of staff will be moved to specialist jobs in the five pilot areas - London South, North East, South West, Cymru Wales and the West Midlands.

The use of special measures for victims to be shielded from public view in court is also being promoted, as well as pre-recording of evidence.