Justice Secretary apologises for court delays faced by rape victims

·3-min read

Rape victims have received an apology from the Justice Secretary for delays they have faced in receiving support and a court date.

Robert Buckland was challenged in the House of Commons over the collapse of cases involving victims who are “fed up” with waiting.

He also acknowledged the number of cases being brought to court are “inadequate”, as Labour tabled a Commons motion criticising the “record low” convictions for rape and the “collapse” in convictions for all serious crime.

In September 2019, the annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed 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%.

The figure dropped another 25% in summer 2020 when the CPS said 1,439 alleged rapists were convicted of rape or lesser offences in 2019/20.

The number of completed prosecutions also reached a record low, with 2,102 in 2019/20, compared with 3,034 in 2018/19, a fall of about 31%.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Labour MP Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) asked Mr Buckland: “What does he say to the 44% of victims of rape who walk away from the trial fed up because the defendant got their legal advice and they have had zero?

“They may have had a very nice police officer have a little chat, ring them once a month, but they’ve had zero because they’re waiting months for the independent sexual violence advisers (ISVA), they’re waiting months for their court date, and they’re fed up.

“What does he say? Will he apologise? Forty-four per cent.”

Mr Buckland said he has spoken to many victims, adding: “An apology is due and I give that, but I say action is due as well and that is happening.

“When she talks about independent sexual violence advisers, from day one of taking office I made the case consistently that the expansion of their important role was a vital part of my policy and we’ve done that.”

He highlighted extra funding provided to boost the number of advisers, adding: “The evidence is clear that where an ISVA is involved, the rates of dropping cases fall dramatically – it fell by about 50%.

“So I take up her challenge, I take up her exhortation, and I say this is work in progress but we are getting on with it.”

Mr Buckland said a major review into how rape cases are investigated and prosecuted will be published “imminently”, adding: “The current rates and number of cases being brought to court are inadequate.

“They do not reflect the reality of what has been happening to thousands of women and girls in our country and we are determined to do everything we can to change that.

“And that involves a change from end to end – police, prosecution and the courts system itself.”

Opening the debate, shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the Government is “failing” survivors of violence against women and girls.

He added it can take “multiple years” before victims of crime and the accused finally get their day in court.

Outlining Labour’s plans, Mr Lammy said: “To make misogyny a hate crime, to increase sentences for rapists and stalkers, to create new specific offences for street sexual harassment and sex for rent, to reverse this Government’s record low conviction rates for rape with a package of policies to improve victims’ experiences in the courts, including by fast-tracking rape and sexual violence cases, offering legal help for victims and better training for professionals.”

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