The number of convictions for sexual offences has risen in the last year, but rates are still dramatically lower than three years ago.
The Ministry of Justice has released the annual statistics for conviction rates, sentences and proceedings brought for crimes across England and Wales.
Although lower rates have been explained by the coronavirus pandemic, some crimes have seen higher conviction rates – including sexual offences.
Last year, the pandemic brought the UK’s justice system to a grinding halt, with jury trials paused for three months and a video link system allowing hearings to be held remotely was put in place.
The courts are still making their way through a backlog of cases, but the Ministry of Justice has said that despite this, the number of convictions increased last year.
The total number of people sentenced after being convicted of a sexual offence has seen a 16% increase in the year up to June 2021, up from 4,346 the year before.
9,361 people had proceedings brought against them, an increase of 2,285 from 7,076 the year before.
Convictions for sex offences were up to 18,707 in 2021 from 16,524 in 2020, which Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab described as “encouraging”.
Although the number of convictions for sexual offences has risen year-on-year since 2019, which saw a total of 17,992, the number is lower than it was in the years before.
In 2018, there were 22,656 convictions for sexual offences in England and Wales, which was a drop from the year before, 2017, which saw 22,708 convictions. In 2016, there were 25,127 convictions for sexual offences recorded, which was an increase from the year before which saw 22,820.
The Centre for Women’s Justice said it has “not heard of any improvement on the dire situation” and part of the reason for this year’s increase in convictions could be down to “catching up” following the pandemic.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said: “Whilst there is finally some news of an improvement in the statistics for sexual offence prosecutions, this was following a dramatic and disturbing decline over the previous few years. I understand there are still less than 3% of reported rapes that result in a charging decision.”
Ms Wistrich added that the pandemic has caused “terrifying delays” to the process following a report of a sexual offence.
She said: “Some victims are waiting up to four years or more. From the work we do with frontline services supporting victims of sexual offences, we have not heard of any improvement on the dire situation.”
Mr Raab said the number of increased convictions, which includes the amount of drug convictions rising by a third from 64,284 in 2020 to 81,900 in 2021, “is just the start of the recovery in our criminal courts”.
He added the recovery “will be further reinforced by Nightingale and Super courts, unlimited sitting days and the £477 million allocated in the Spending Review to deliver swifter justice”.
Earlier this year, a rape action plan was unveiled that aimed to roll out a new approach to investigations, reduce the number of victims withdrawing from the process, increase the number of trials heard, put more rapists behind bars, and return the volumes of cases being charged and proceeding to court to levels seen in 2016.
Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse MP said at the time: “We’ve taken a hard and honest look at how the entire criminal justice system deals with rape and in too many instances it has not simply been good enough.
“That is why we are seeking robust action from the police, CPS and courts to better support victims and make sure more perpetrators answer for their crimes.”