Thursday, January 27

Ministers apologize for rape victims and promise to reform the system | Rape and sexual assault


The ministers have unreservedly apologized for the rape victims, saying they are “deeply ashamed” that thousands of survivors have failed to monitor the government as they promised to reform the criminal justice system.

A long-awaited government review of a precipitous drop in rape prosecutions promises a radical reform of how cases are handled in England and Wales, including targets for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police to increase the number of rape prosecutors. prosecutions, and plans to shift the focus of investigations from the credibility of the victim to the perpetrator.

But while charities and victims groups welcomed the apology, they said the measures lacked urgency and lacked sufficient funds.

Vera Baird, Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, said it was right that ministers had “expressed their shame” and resolved to reverse the downward trend in prosecutions, but added that “it was not hidden that this review presents some opportunities losses”. .

Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said he was “deeply sorry” that many victims had been denied justice “as a result of systemic failures” after years of austerity. “We will not rest until real improvements are made, from transforming the support provided to victims to ensuring that cases are thoroughly investigated and vigorously prosecuted,” he said.

The police and CPS have been ordered to work together to increase the number of rape cases that go to court and return prosecutions to 2016 levels before the end of this parliament.

A pilot called Operation Soteria, which prompts police and CPS to focus investigations on suspects rather than credibility of whistleblowers, will be rolled out to four forces by the end of the year with the intention of implementing a “radically new operating model. “. Funding of £ 3.2 million to cover the project over 12 months will come from the Home Office.

Sarah Crew, leader of the National Police Chiefs Council on rape cases, said the service was “absolutely committed to doing better”, while the director of public prosecution, Max Hill, said he was “determined to lead change. meaningful and lasting ”.

Every six months “dashboards” will be published that measure “punctuality, quality and participation of the victims … and the implementation of the action plan.” Crime and Police Minister Kit Malthouse has been given the responsibility to oversee the implementation of the rape review, and will lead a monthly external working group that will include the Victims Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Victim Groups and Representatives. from criminal justice agencies. .

“We have looked carefully and honestly at how the entire criminal justice system deals with rape, and in too many cases it just hasn’t been good enough,” Malthouse said, adding that police and CPS would be “more accountable than ever.” .

In a warning shot for the agencies involved, the review establishes that if the joint CPS-police action plan already launched is not enough to improve results, “more proposals will be considered…”.

The review followed a series of revelations in The Guardian and a sustained campaign by victim groups about the failures of rape prosecutions.

Recommends a review of the treatment of rape complainants, in an attempt to address the growing number of those who drop cases; over the past five years, the dropout rate has increased from 25% to 43%.

A pilot program that allows victims to pre-register their evidence and cross-examine, to avoid the trauma of attending court, is being expanded from three to six courts and, if successful, will be implemented nationwide.

In a series of proposals, the review also warns that victims:

  • They should no longer be subject to a “digital strip search” of their communications, and only evidence that is relevant to a rape case should be used in court.

  • Have phones returned to you within 24 hours, and a replacement provided during that time.

  • Have access to therapeutic and clinical support, with the ambition to increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) by 700.

  • Receive a clear and prompt commitment from first report to trial, and better information about your rights.

The review was announced in an attempt to halt a major drop in prosecutions for rape, which have fallen to record lows since 2016, while reports of rape have doubled.

Prosecutions in 2016-17 totaled 5,190 and fell almost 60% in four years to 2,102 in 2019-20, even as the number of complaints to the police increased.

Convictions have also fallen to a record low. According to Guardian’s analysis of the most recent quarterly figures, there were 1,917 fewer rapists convicted in the year to December 2020 than in 2016-17, a 64% decrease: the CPS obtained 2,991 convictions four years ago, compared to 1,074 the last year.

Andrea Simon, director of the Coalition to End Violence Against Women (EVAW), said that while the review showed a desire to fix the justice system for rape survivors, there was “a clear lack of urgency, measures that reflect the necessary ambition and resource endowment of plans to make it a reality ”.

In a joint statement, Evaw, the Center for Women’s Justice, Imkaan and Rape Crisis said the review proposed pilots and consultations that may not see results for years, rather than taking urgent action. They added that not enough work had been done to support minority groups and their access to justice.

The organizations have previously accused the government of failing to engage with the victims, and Simon noted: “Unfortunately, these recommendations reflect this lack of listening from the survivors themselves.”

The review also examined why the number of prosecutions had decreased to such a degree. In March, a court case brought by Evaw and the Center for Women’s Justice was dismissed in which the CPS was accused of raising the level of charges. The review concludes that the reasons are “complex” and include an increase in demand for digital data, delays in investigation, “strained relationships” between different parts of the criminal justice system, lack of specialized resources, and “inconsistent” support for victims.

The report does not directly mention the impact of austerity or cuts, despite the fact that since 2010 the CPS has faced a 25% budget cut and 30% reduction in staffwhile the police forces of England and Wales lost 21,732 agents between March 2010 and March 2018 (15% of their total number).

As part of the review, the Legal Commission will consider reforms “to increase understanding of consent and sexual harm and improve treatment of victims, while ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial.” It will also examine rape myths and use the victim’s sexual history and medical records as evidence.


www.theguardian.com

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