Rape becoming 'partially decriminalised', claim campaigners, as convictions slump

Campaigners claim rape victims are not getting justice (PA)
Campaigners claim rape victims are not getting justice (PA)

Campaigners have argued rape is becoming “effectively decriminalised” as “appalling” new figures show prosecutions in England and Wales have slumped.

The annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) shows there were just 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative lesser offence during the financial year 2018-19, down from 2,635 in the previous 12 months – a drop of 26.9%.

This is despite the number of rape claims dealt with annually by police in England and Wales rising from 35,847 to 57,882 during the last four years.

It means around 3.3% of all reported rapes end in a conviction.

There were 1,925 convictions in 2018/19, a 27% drop compared with 2,635 the year before (PA)
There were 1,925 convictions in 2018/19, a 27% drop compared with 2,635 the year before (PA)

The report comes as a coalition of women’s organisations, represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), gets ready to launch a judicial review case against the CPS over claims cases are being “dropped” without good reason.

Campaigners have previously argued so-called “weak” cases are ditched in order to improve notoriously low rape conviction rates.

But the CPS said the drop in rape charges was due to “a number of factors”, including a reduction in the number of referrals from the police to the CPS, and an increase in the volume of time-consuming digital data.

UK Supreme Court in London, on 21 February 2018 rules that police can be held liable for failing to bring serious criminals to justice. The decision was based on two believed victim cases of the serial rapist, taxi driver John Worboy.  (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Campaigners petition the Supreme Court for failing to bring serious criminals to justice. (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich, the CWJ founder, labelled the statistics “appalling” on Twitter and argued the “fault lies first and foremost with the CPS”.

She suggested on Radio 4’s Today programme there had been changes to the “merits-based approach” of prosecuting rape towards a “bookmaker’s choice”, where you “kind of second guess what a jury are going to decide”.

But Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC denied there had been any changes: “We prosecute on the basis of the code for prosecutors that specifically says that we operate on the basis that juries are objective and impartial and reasonable. That is what a prosecutor bears in mind.

“I absolutely share the concern… at the growing gap between rape reporting levels and the number of cases that are coming to court.”

Figures show that the charge rate for rape – essentially the decision to press ahead with a prosecution – has dropped from 64.3% in 2014-15 to 48.2% this year.

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Andrea Simon, head of public affairs at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which is among those looking to take legal action against the CPS, said: “These numbers represent real women subjected to rape, a crime which does enormous harm, who are then further victimised by a system that does not take them seriously.”

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