The Government has published its Rape Review more than two years after it was launched to examine the slump in convictions.
The PA news agency answers some of the key questions about what it means.
– What is the rape review?
In short, it is a root-and-branch examination of the whole system. This included looking at evidence of allegations being reported, how they are dealt with by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the decision to prosecute, and the outcomes in court, across England and Wales.
– Is it important?
Absolutely. Campaigners said the review, which was commissioned in March 2019, was crucial to getting to the bottom of why rape prosecutions are plummeting, despite an increase in people coming forward with allegations.
– What are the figures that support the claims that such a review was needed?
The latest CPS data, published last summer for the year 2019/20, showed just 1,439 people were convicted of rape or lesser offences, down 25% from 1,925 the previous year. It represented a record low. There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of all reported cases result in a charge.
– Perhaps fewer people are reporting rapes?
The figures actually suggest the opposite. Reporting of rape has increased in recent years, from 24,093 adult rapes recorded by the police in 2015-16 to 43,187 in 2019-20.
– So what does the review recommend?
A cultural and systematic change. The idea is to increase trust in the judicial service, make the experience less traumatic for victims, and bring about guilty pleas without the need for a trial by building solid cases.
– How will it aim to do that?
There are a range of measures. Firstly, police will move towards a default investigatory model that recognises the prevalence of serial offending in rape and sexual offences, with a greater emphasis on the behaviour of the suspect rather than, as Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC described it, “the obsessive focus on the credibility of the victim”.
– OK, so does that mean someone reporting a rape will not be asked what they were wearing or how much they had to drink?
No, it does not mean that. Investigations will still have to be made. Likewise, there will be times when complainants will be asked to hand over their phones for investigation. But police will only look at evidence that is relevant and proportionate, and Mr Buckland said victims do not need to worry about their “whole life being on display”. Phones should be returned to the complainant within 24 hours, the Government said.
– What about the court process?
There are plans for a pilot scheme where alleged victims pre-record their cross-examination and re-examination by defence and prosecution lawyers, so that it can be done away from what can be an intimidating court environment.
– But what about actually getting to the court process?
The Government has pledged, in consultation with victims and those that support them, to commission a support service that it says will provide rape victims with easily accessed immediate support, whenever and wherever they require it.
– So do we know whether all of this is going to work, will the streets and homes be safer?
It is impossible to state definitively. But the Government has proposed “scorecards” to measure the effectiveness of these new measures in an effort to work out what is effective and what is not.