CPS admits to secret conviction rate targets for rape

The CPS acknowledges the targets – which they had previously denied existed – may have resulted in ‘perverse incentives’ for Prosecutors to only pursue ‘stronger’ cases

The Law Gazette has published findings of evidence to support the charge outlined in legal action brought against the CPS by the Centre for Women’s Justice and End Violence Against Women Coalition, which alleges covert changes in practice impacting on rape prosecution rates. The scandal was covered by BBC’s Newsnight on 13th November.

Despite record numbers of rape allegations being put forward to the police, prosecution rates have fallen to their lowest since records began. In the last three years, the number of convictions has more than halved.

This shocking failure of the criminal justice system promoted calls for investigation from women’s organisations throughout the UK, a course of action fully supported and endorsed by Rape Crisis England and Wales and Trafford Rape Crisis.

The CPS has previously denied any change in practice.

However, in light of the evidence uncovered, the CPS has now acknowledged the use of ‘conviction levels of ambition’ for rape cases of 61-62%, in a bid to improve their rape conviction rates. The code of practice for prosecutors usually sets this at 50% as standard: “The test ought to be ‘more likely than not’…they are in violation of their own code,” observes Harriet Wistrich, director at the Centre for Women’s Justice.

Harriet Wistrich, director at the Centre for Women’s Justice, spoke on BBC Newsnight about the findings.

In practical terms, this means that prosecutors were being given a ‘perverse incentive’ to drop ‘weak’ cases and pursue fewer, but stronger, cases in a bid to increase their conviction rate. Tens of thousands of cases may have been dropped as a result of this.

Rebecca Hitchen, for EVAW, said: “This is a shocking admission from the CPS, as it acknowledges what we have repeatedly claimed – that performance targets linked to conviction rates will result in CPS prosecutors charging ‘stronger’ cases and dropping ‘weaker’ ones in order to make itself look better. This is why the numbers of rape cases reaching trial has plummeted and why we are judicial reviewing the CPS.”

Speaking on Newsnight about the issue, Shadow Attorney General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti called the findings a “scandal”: “We’ve got to understand that yes, rape cases are some of the hardest, but they are also some of the most serious under criminal law: after murder, what could be more serious?

“[…]We need a proper investigation into what’s been going on. This is an absolute scandal…I am almost shaking in shock at this.”

Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West Nazir Afsal, Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti and former Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales Baroness Newlove joined Newsnight to discuss the findings.

Becki Hall, for Trafford Rape Crisis, responds:

“Rape is a horrific crime that often results in long-term trauma and impact for victims. We see first-hand how devastating that can be, with the effects of that trauma lasting for weeks, months, or years after the fact. It is an experience many women will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“These victims deserve justice, and our current system is failing them at every stage. Victims are afraid to come forward, knowing they will be subject to victim-blaming, shaming, and digital strip searches that will re-traumatise them or leave them feeling they aren’t believed. They are discouraged from seeking counselling during the judicial process, leaving them struggling with trauma and mental illness.

“Now, they’re faced with the reality that their case is unlikely to ever be brought to court; subject to covert targets that undermine the entire judicial process.

“With up to 98% of rape allegations not being prosecuted, is it any wonder over half of victims drop out of investigations – and that rape continues to be a crisis of epidemic proportions in this country? It is, in effect, decriminalized.”

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