CPS facing judicial review into claims it dropped 'weak' rape cases to improve conviction rates

·4-min read

A judicial review is being launched this week into claims the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) unlawfully abandoned "weak" rape cases to boost conviction rates.

The Court of Appeal will hear allegations that the CPS adopted a "risk-averse" policy.

If the three High Court judges agree, it could mean hundreds, if not thousands, of cases may have to be reviewed.

The court challenge is being brought by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), which claims the CPS changed its policy, then its practice, on how and when it charges rape cases.

Campaigners say this led to a "catastrophic collapse" in the numbers of rape cases going to court - and describe it as "the effective decriminalisation of rape".

Evidence they plan to present includes a whistleblower statement and detailed analysis of case outcomes over a decade.

EVAW director Sarah Green said: "In 2016 and 2017, senior managers gave a new order to their prosecutors to go easy and to drop weaker cases out of the system.

"We believe they did that to make their outcome statistics look better so their conviction rates looked better.

"That kind of action is unlawful - that means that you have decided arbitrarily not to give women access to justice when they report a really serious crime like rape."

The coalition claims that those alleged actions had "horrendous consequences" for the charging rate for rape, "completely crashing in the first year alone, falling by 23%".

Campaigners say that they believe it is "very likely" senior managers who took that action did not understand it would have such a "horrific effect so quickly".

EVAW is concerned that the drop in charging rates has been an "absolute tragedy" due to the message it may send out to victims and perpetrators.

Bonny Turner's case is one being used as part of the judicial review. She claims she was raped in February 2016, but her case was dropped by police.

She told Sky News she strongly believes her case "deserves to be heard in court", adding: "The CPS say [they] don't want to unnecessarily put someone through a court case unless they think that they are going to win.

"But for me justice isn't just about the outcome - it doesn't come from thin air. Justice comes from a just process every step along the way and I've not experienced a just system along the way."

A CPS spokesperson said of her case: "Rape is one of the most complex and challenging offences to prosecute and we recognise that our decisions have a profound impact on the individuals affected.

"We considered all the available evidence in this case carefully and concluded there was no realistic prospect of conviction. We understand this decision was disappointing and met with Ms Turner to explain the reasoning.

"This decision was upheld by a review undertaken by a specialist appeals lawyer within a different part of the CPS.

"Ms Turner then applied for a judicial review where the High Court also upheld the decision not to prosecute by the CPS, after looking at the decision-making process. The High Court concluded that the decision was properly reasoned on the evidence."

The spokesperson added: "There has been no change of approach in how the CPS prosecutes rape. Our skilled prosecutors are experienced and highly trained to make sure criminals can be brought to justice.

"No matter how challenging the case, whenever our legal test is met, we always seek to charge.

"Independent inspectors have found no evidence of a risk-averse approach and have reported a clear improvement in the quality of our legal decision making in rape cases.

"The principles of the merits-based approach are enshrined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which guides every charging decision.

"Along with the police, we remain committed to making real, lasting improvements to how these horrific offences are handled, so every victim will feel able to come forward with confidence that their complaint will be fully investigated and, where the evidence supports, charged and prosecuted."

The coalition of women's rights groups has raised tens of thousands of pounds through crowdfunding to help support the legal action.

The Court of Appeal overturned a previous decision by the High Court not to hear the case.

The case will be presented before senior judges in the High Court over two days, 26 and 27 January.