The Government’s apology over its dire rape conviction record will not comfort those people whose cases have been dropped, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales has said.
Dame Vera Baird QC said the ministerial apology within its long-awaited Rape Review was a “milestone” which would effectively force the Government to take action, but said the “underwhelming document” did not go far enough.
She also criticised investigators’ continued use of analysing the mobile phones of people who report a rape to police.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Dame Vera said:
It is a good thing that there has been an apology, but it doesn’t really help people whose cases have been abandoned.
Ministers have now accepted, the criminal justice system has been totally mishandling rape.
If you make a public apology like this and don’t put it right, where on earth does that leave your future in that role?
Dame Vera said there needed to be a fundamental change regarding the handing over of the complainant’s mobile phone.
It came after the Rape Review said victims must only be asked to provide their phones when it is “necessary and proportionate to the investigation”.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland QC said investigations could not be “a fishing expedition”.
But Dame Vera argued instead for every complainant to have access to independent legal advice to decide whether or not investigating the device is reasonable and proportionate.
There needs to be a lawyer on their (complainant’s) side who can say: ‘This is Article 8 privacy rights you’re coming very close to – push back, you (police) don’t need this much stuff’.
This digital download problem discourages many people from complaining at all.
Charities broadly welcomed the Government’s admission in the Rape Review for its failure to bring justice for victims.
But Kat Araniello, who was told her rape allegation was a “slam-dunk case” by police before it was later dropped by the CPS, said she felt let down by the system and that the apology simply made her feel “really angry”.
Waiving her right to anonymity, the 44-year-old from Hertfordshire told the PA news agency:
They’ve ruined victims’ and survivors’ lives through cases being dropped, allowing the CPS to treat victims and survivors the way they do, and they’ve allowed perpetrators to continue to offend.
An apology doesn’t cut it.
The latest CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There were 4,643 rape prosecutions in 2015-16.
Around 13% of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, but this dropped to just 3% in 2019-20.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge, according to latest figures.
The review said it found no one specific cause for the overall drop in prosecutions.
Summarising the report’s findings, Buckland, home secretary Priti Patel and attorney general Michael Ellis QC wrote:
These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed.
Victims of rape are being failed.
Thousands of victims have gone without justice.
But this isn’t just about numbers, every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.
Our mission, set out in this publication, is to understand why we are letting down rape victims, and to right this wrong.
Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said the review contained many positives, not least the apology, but said she was concerned about a lack of urgency to bring about change.
She told the PA news agency:
Whether what has been announced today will be enough remains to be seen.
But we sincerely hope it will lead to change and we are fully invested in it being a success, it has to be a success for the benefit of victims and survivors who are currently being failed, and victims and survivors of the future.
Those improvements are long overdue, this is a genuine crisis.
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