Criminal justice system continues to fail rape victims
The criminal justice system (CJS) is failing victims of rape, and widespread reform is needed to build trust and secure justice, a new report has found.
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A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) found that a lack of collaboration between the police and prosecutors has led to delays and poor communication with victims.
Inspectors found that on average, 706 days elapsed from the date of reporting an offence to the police to the start of the trial. The report raised significant concerns about the quality of communication with victims, including that updates to victims about the progress of their case post-charge were frequently disjointed and contradictory, and sometimes did not take place at all.
Despite identifying an urgent need for reform, inspectors also found evidence of many dedicated and hardworking police officers and prosecutors committed to the investigation and prosecution of rape. The report also recognised that police and prosecutor workloads are high and sometimes overwhelming.
Inspectors welcomed the launch of Operation Soteria and the shared commitment by the police and the CPS in working together at a national level. However, they said it is still too soon for any of these changes to have helped transform experiences for victims of rape, and the whole criminal justice system needs to work together to provide an effective service to victims.
HMICFRS and HMCPSI have jointly made nine recommendations in the second phase of their inspection, including that:
- police and prosecutors should review and significantly improve communications with victims from the point of charge onwards;
- the Ministry of Justice should set up specialist rape offence courts to help clear the significant Crown Court backlog of rape cases; and
- the Home Office and the Ministerial Lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences should consult widely on the benefits of a commissioner with explicit responsibility for tackling rape and serious sexual offences.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate Andrew Cayley CMG QC said:
“Rape victims are continually and systematically failed by the criminal justice system. We found many hardworking professionals who are dedicated to supporting victims and pursuing perpetrators, but we also found some deep divisions between the police and prosecutors which must be overcome.
“While previous reports have found similar problems, ours is different. We looked at the process from start to end, directly following the victim’s experience. The results are unacceptable. The number of cases which result in a charge and proceed to court represents only a small proportion of the total cases reported to the police. Victims should not have to wait years for a court date, experience multiple adjournments, and then report, as we have heard, that the process is worse than the offence.
“We have made a series of urgent recommendations that, if acted on, have the power to transform victims’ experiences. But we cannot continue to make the same recommendations – and that is why we are calling for widespread reform of the entire criminal justice system, supported by long-term funding.”
The two inspectorates said this was the most robust joint inspection they had ever carried out. It involved examining 556 files from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), commissioning independent researchers to speak directly to survivors of rape, and surveying 135 survivors and victim support services.
The research found that victims often felt they were the ones being investigated or standing trial, rather than the focus being on the accused.
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- Phase one of the joint inspection was published on 16 July 2021. It focused on the period between the victim first reporting the rape and the police or CPS deciding to take no further action.
- The findings in this report are from phase two, which focused on the period between a reported rape resulting in a charge and the case going to court, including the outcome.
- Quotes from survivors of rape are shown in boxed text in the report.
- For phase two, inspectors from HMICFRS and HMCPSI jointly reviewed and assessed 54 police and CPS case files from five police forces and six CPS Areas in which the cases were charged. This included cases resulting in conviction, in jury acquittal, and where no evidence was offered or the case was withdrawn.
- All cases that were examined were finalised between October 2019 and June 2021.
- Inspectors carried out interviews and focus groups with police and CPS staff, as well as organisations providing support to victims.
- Inspectors carried out two bespoke surveys to inform the report: one of rape victims/survivors; and a second of support services who support rape victims/survivors.
- Operation Soteria brings together academics, the police, and the CPS, and seeks to improve the investigation of and response to rape and serious sexual assault.