‘Chronic delays’ and victim withdrawal rates undermining progress since Rape Review, warns Victims’ Commissioner

The Victims’ Commissioner says progress made since the 2021 Rape Review “risks being undermined by systemic issues eroding victim confidence”.

Feb 5, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Baroness Newlove

Responding to the latest Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice System (CJS) Delivery Data Dashboard, Baroness Newlove said “chronic delays and record backlogs” meant rape cases were still taking far too long to progress through the courts.

While the three Rape Review metrics – suspects referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for early advice/charging decision, suspects charged by the CPS and cases going to Crown Court – have all exceeded 2016 and 2019 quarterly averages, the Victims’ Commissioner said this did not reflect “wider issues in the system”.

The CJS data dashboard for the quarter July to September 2023 shows the number of days from charge to case completion at the Crown Court was 406 days, while more than half of adult rape police investigations were closed because the victim did not support police action.

Baroness Newlove said: “I am encouraged to see further progress against the key metrics of the Rape Review, including increased police referrals, charges, and cases reaching the Crown Court over 2016 levels. This clearly marks a step in the right direction, and I remain cautiously optimistic.

“Even though I welcome this progress, it is important to acknowledge the modest ambitions of the Rape Review. Notably, reported cases of rape in 2023 now dwarf those of both 2016 and 2019 – the year the Rape Review was commissioned.

“Exceeding 2016 targets is an achievement, especially from the low point in 2019, but it is crucial we consider 2016 levels of charging as a baseline not to fall below, and not as a target to aspire to.”

She added: “Years on from the Rape Review, progress risks being undermined by systemic issues eroding victim confidence.

“Chronic delays, record backlogs, and high victim withdrawal rates paint a wider concerning picture.

“Rape cases are still taking far too long to progress through the courts, with yet another marked increase in the number of cases outstanding for over a year.

“No victim must be expected to wait years before their case gets to court.”

Baroness Newlove said too many victims were also withdrawing from the criminal justice system before their case gets to court.

“A staggering 61 per cent of police investigations were closed in the last quarter because the victim withdrew and 20 per cent withdrew after the defendant had been charged,” she said.

“Twenty-one per cent of rape trials are postponed at the last minute, highlighting an overloaded courts system that fails to prioritise victims. Operation Soteria and other welcome initiatives stemming from the Rape Review cannot account for a clogged-up courts system.

“The advances made by police and CPS are to be welcomed. We must build on this progress. But that all depends on an efficient courts and justice system. Unless we tackle the delays in our court system, we risk failing victims of rape and sexual assault once again.”

The CJS data dashboard brings together data from CJS quarterly statistics, CPS, HMCTS and police recorded crime, together with other “unique data sets”.

The dashboard aims to show how the Government is progressing on specific metric ambitions set out in the 2021 Rape Review, as well as providing additional data on timeliness, victim engagement and quality of service.

The publication of the Rape Review in 2021 committed to improve the criminal justice system process for victims, and to return volumes of cases being referred by the police to the CPS, charged by the CPS, and going to court, to at least 2016 levels.

Baroness Newlove said 2016 marked a “key point in time where the system faltered”, adding: “Well-documented issues regarding the disclosure of evidence combined with strained relationships between criminal justice agencies, inconsistent support for victims, and ultimately a decline in the number of charges and prosecutions for rape cases.”

She highlighted the “huge increase” in police recorded rapes, which in July to September 2023 was 11,620 compared with the 2016 quarterly average of 6,270 and the 2019 quarterly average of 9,631.

Baroness Newlove said it was also important to note the wider issues in the system. For the quarter July to September 2023, the CJS data dashboard shows:

  • The median number of days for police to charge an offender was 261 days;
  • The mean number of days from charge to case completion at the Crown Court was 406 days;
  • The number of cases outstanding for more than a year in the Crown Court was 667, a further increase from 587 last quarter.
  • More than half (61 per cent) of adult rape police investigations were closed because the victim did not support police action;
  • A fifth (20 per cent) adult rape cases were stopped after a defendant had been charged because a victim no longer supported the prosecution; and
  • More than a fifth (21 per cent) of adult rape cases were rearranged on the day of trial.

While timeliness of adult rape cases has improved this quarter, cases are still taking too long to progress through the courts and the number of adult rape cases outstanding for over a year continues to increase, said Baroness Newlove.

She added that too many victims were withdrawing from the criminal justice system and too many cases were being rearranged on the day of trial.

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