'We are ashamed': Government apologises to rape survivors as it vows conviction boost

17 June 2021, 22:30 | Updated: 18 June 2021, 10:57

Priti Patel wrote she was "deeply ashamed" by the figures
Priti Patel wrote she was "deeply ashamed" by the figures. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

The Government has apologised for "failing" rape survivors and has set out plans for a "system and culture change" after a review found conviction levels had plunged in recent years.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC and Home Secretary Priti Patel said they were "deeply ashamed" by the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice.

It came after the latest figures from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed that the number of rape convictions fell to a record low last year despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.

"These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed," wrote Mr Buckland, Ms Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis QC, summarising the report's findings.

"Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn't just about numbers - every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.

"Our mission, set out in this publication, is to understand why we are letting down rape victims, and to right this wrong."

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There are an estimated 128,000 survivors of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6 per cent of reported cases results in a charge.

The review, which was commissioned more than two years ago, said: "The current situation is totally unacceptable and the Government is determined to change it: we owe this to every victim and are extremely sorry that the system has reached this point."

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the report's mission was to "understand why we are letting down rape victims"
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the report's mission was to "understand why we are letting down rape victims". Picture: PA

As part of the review, a range of measures have been announced that are intended to increase the number of allegations referred to the CPS, the number of suspects charged, and the number of cases reaching court to 2016 levels.

Measures include a pilot scheme aimed at reducing cross-examination of survivors in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews, a nationwide recognition that only evidence about the complainant that is pertinent to the case should be used, and a new approach to investigations which ensures that there is an "early and robust assessment of suspect behaviour and offending patterns".

Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the review contained many positives - not least the apology - but said she was concerned about a lack of urgency to bring about change.

"Whether what has been announced today will be enough remains to be seen," she said.

"But we sincerely hope it will lead to change and we are fully invested in it being a success - it has to be a success for the benefit of victims and survivors who are currently being failed, and victims and survivors of the future.

"Those improvements are long overdue - this is a genuine crisis."

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The report was also criticised by Labour, who called it a "missed opportunity".

"After waiting over two years for this to be published by the Government, the review and its recommendations do not go far enough," said shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves.

"This review was a real opportunity to improve the criminal justice system for victims of rape, and it has missed that opportunity."

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims' Commissioner, said the Government had "a mountain to climb" to restore confidence in the justice system, and so it was disappointing to see that measures would not be implemented right away.

She said: "It is disheartening that truly transformative policies, such as the pre-recording of video evidence of intimidated witnesses, are to be put off yet again by further consultation, piloting or general delay.”

However, she said that the review provided an opportunity.

"While the Government's action plan undoubtedly has serious limitations, we have to seize this moment if we are to escape this crisis on our justice system," she said.

"I truly hope this review will help drive us forwards and I will be pushing ministers all the way to deliver justice for victims of rape and sexual assault."