Judges turn down legal challenge against falling rape prosecutions

Judges have rejected a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service over the fall in rape prosecutions.

The campaign was brought to the High Court by The End Violence Against Women coalition, who said the current rate amounts to a ‘decriminalisation of rape’

Represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice, the campaigners asked to bring a judicial review against the CPS over the sharp decline in charges following a reversal in policy. Following a hearing in London today, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Singh refused a full sitting of the case.

Representing the coalition, Phillippa Kaufman QC had previously argued that, from 2009, there was a move towards prosecutors deciding whether evidence was strong enough to merit a conviction, rather than considering what the likely outcome would be.

The barrister said there was a ‘gradual, but steady, increase in positive outcomes for rape victims’ under that approach.

However in 2016 and 2017 the merits-based approach was to no longer be used and ‘weak’ cases were to be removed from the system.

CPS lawyers said there had been no shift in approach and that it was ‘simplistic, artificial and wrong’ to claim the drop in the number of prosecutions was linked to the changing of the wording in its policy.

Tom Little QC, representing the CPS, told the court: ‘The drop in the number of sexual offences being prosecuted is a matter of real and pressing concern.

He added: ‘But understanding the causes of the drop, and tackling it, require a whole system approach that encompasses Government, police and the CPS.

‘This claim invites the court to be a substitute for that process and to be an arbiter of prosecutorial policy.’

Last September, the annual violence against women and girls report from the CPS showed the 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative lesser offence was down 26.9% from the previous 12 months when there were 2,635.

CPS said the drop was due to ‘a number of factors’, including a reduction in the number of referrals from police, and an increase in time-consuming digital data.

Dame Victoria said: ‘In our view, it is clear that the full code test (for prosecutors) has included at all material times, and still does include, a merits-based approach.’

In a statement outside the court, Centre for Women’s Justice director Harriet Wistrich said: ‘We are hugely disappointed by this result.

‘We may have lost in court today but we believe we have won in the court of public opinion.

‘There is enormous public concern about what is going on with rape investigations and prosecutions, based both on the appalling statistics, evidence of inside whistleblowers and the experience of many women trying to seek justice.

‘Ultimately the court was not prepared to deal with a complex factual dispute between our client and the CPS.

‘This is not an end to the case as we will continue to expose the wrongdoing of the CPS which is contributing to the effective decriminalisation of rape.

‘Ultimately our evidence and a lot more information on what is actually happening will come out. We are seeking leave to appeal. We will not stop.’

Coalition director Sarah Green said: ‘We have no regrets about bringing this case.

‘It was the right thing to do, and it was entirely necessary to challenge our justice system institutions when they are failing to keep women safe and deliver access to justice.’

She added: ‘The CPS is arguably failing to keep with the times on expectations for justice after sexual violence.

‘The situation as it is cannot hold, it amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape.’