The criminal justice system’s response to rape allegations “often lacks focus, clarity and commitment”, with a “blame culture” between police and prosecutors, a watchdog report has found.
A root and branch examination by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPS ) identified that there “needs to be an urgent, profound and fundamental shift in how rape cases are investigated and prosecuted”.
In particular, it identified “finger pointing” and a “deep division” between agencies over dismal conviction rates.
The report said: “At a national level, there is a lot of activity to improve the response to rape.
Until this blame culture is eradicated, a real shift in attitudes seems unachievable
“But beneath the surface of these joint structures, we were told of continuing underlying tensions between the police and the CPS, and a desire on both sides to blame the other for low charge and conviction rates.”
It added: “Until this blame culture is eradicated, a real shift in attitudes seems unachievable.”
The report also identified a more “cautious” attitude towards investigating and prosecuting rape cases than other alleged offences.
It said: “While we found examples of effective individuals and teams in every force and CPS area, the criminal justice system’s response to rape offences too often lacks focus, clarity and commitment. We also found that it fails to put victims at the heart of building strong cases.”
It made a range of recommendations, including a change in how the CPS and police work together, and “high-quality and consistent wrap-around care for those who report rape”.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams and HMCPSI deputy chief inspector Anthony Rogers said: “It is sadly not news to anyone that rape victims are too often denied justice.
We found evidence of police and prosecutors blaming each other for low prosecution rates
Wendy Williams and Anthony Rogers
“Many initiatives and reviews are in place to improve this, but their success will depend on joint ownership of the problems and the solutions by police and the CPS at national and local levels.
“We found some excellent examples of this – but also evidence of police and prosecutors blaming each other for low prosecution rates, and pointing to different data sets to support their positions.
“Successful cases rely on police and prosecutors working as a team. They must stop this finger pointing and start working together to ensure victims receive better support and justice is served.”
The report, which involved 39 interviews and 29 focus groups with police and prosecution staff, as well as reviewing more than 500 case files, highlighted the CPS’s insistence on communicating through email “for case audit purposes”, which caused “frustration” and was “another example of a barrier to effective communication”.
Ms Williams said that funding was also important, but added: “You can have all the funding available, but if the two agencies continue to work – and I hesitate to say it – in silos, if they can’t establish those effective working relationships, that calls for a change in mindset.”
The report follows the Government’s rape review, published last month, in which it apologised for “failing” rape victims and set out plans for a “system and culture change”.
The latest CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge.