Blame for a decline in the percentage of rape allegations resulting in charge has been placed firmly at the door of the police by the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI).
In a report published today, HMCPSI states there is no evidence that the CPS has become more risk averse in its charging decisions. But it says police delays and failures to submit cases with sufficient evidence resulted in many cases being dropped or 'administratively finalised', which means they are returned for further investigation.
While 58,657 allegations of rape were made in the year ending March 2019, only 1,925 successful prosecutions for the offence followed.
The Centre for Women’s Justice has brought a judicial review against the CPS, claiming that a change in its policy on charging has contributed to huge declines in numbers of rape cases prosecuted and convicted. The CPS has consistently denied any change, but last month the Gazette revealed that the CPS had imposed a rape conviction rate target in 2016, which it dropped after two years after deciding it was 'not appropriate'.
Today’s 195-page report from HMCPSI supports the CPS position, finding that prosecutors correctly observed the Code for Crown Prosecutors in all but 2% of cases sampled - an improvement on a 2016 inspection which found the code had been wrongly applied in 10% of cases. There was no evidence that the CPS had become more risk-averse, that it had dropped too many cases or that decision-making had been influenced by conviction rate targets, the report added.
HM chief inspector Kevin McGinty said: 'Since 2016 there has been a substantial increase in rape allegations, while the number of rape prosecutions has fallen significantly – which indicates there is a serious problem. The CPS has been accused of only choosing easy cases to prosecute, but we found no evidence of that in our report.'
However the report did criticise prosecutors for requesting disclosure of large amounts of personal information from both complainants and suspects which was not necessary for the investigation, including full downloads from phones and material from third parties such as schools or doctors.
The report also highlights under-resourcing of both the CPS and the police. '[The criminal justice system] has been under-resourced so that it is close to breaking point,' the report states. 'The number of rape allegations lost in the investigative process is damning.'
Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, welcomed the report as a 'vote of confidence' in the CPS's professionalism and decision making. 'I share the deep public concern over the growing gap between the number of rapes being reported, and the number of criminals being convicted of this sickening offence,' he said. 'It is right that the CPS is open to independent scrutiny to be sure that we are doing everything possible to bring offenders to justice.'
However some women’s organisations have expressed unhappiness at the report’s findings.
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called it 'profoundly disappointing'.
'The report appears to leave many questions at the police front door, even though the government’s own analysis earlier this year found clearly that the numbers of rape cases arriving at the CPS and going through to charge and prosecution have declined at a faster rate than the decline in referrals from the police to CPS,' she said.
Centre for Women’s Justice director Harriet Wistrich said the report was 'altogether a wasted opportunity to shine a light on this crisis'.
'We are inundated with examples of compelling cases of rape prosecutions being dropped by the CPS or by the police who say there is no point in referring consent cases to the CPS any more,' she said.