CPS to face legal challenge over rape decisions based on ‘second guessing jury prejudices’
Crowdfunded legal action has been launched against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for an alleged covert decision to change charging decision policy and practice in rape cases.
The Ending Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), began legal action against the CPS on Monday (June 10), claiming that a change in CPS decision making, without consultation, has resulted in a dramatic fall in the number of rape cases being charged.
The coalition argues the change in practice discriminates against women and girls, and is a major failure to protect their human rights.
The CWJ said there are parallels with a case it brought against the Metropolitan Police Service over the force’s failure to adequately investigate John Worboys, the so-called Black Cab Rapist.
Harriet Wistrich, CWJ Director, said: “The Supreme Court held that this failure amounted to human rights violation. We are arguing that the CPS’ systemic failure to prosecute rape is a comparable human rights failure and has a discriminatory impact on women who are the large majority of rape victims. The failures by the CPS to consult on changes to policy and to disregard its own guidance developed to tackle the under-prosecution of rape are, we argue, unlawful.”
It claims to have evidence from CPS staff that charging decisions are being taken based on “second-guessing” juries’ prejudices.
In a statement, EVAW said: “It is appalling that such a change should be implemented at a time when more women than ever are coming forward and reporting this serious crime.”
Figures from the CPS and Ministry of Justice show that while rapes reported to the police increased by 173 per cent between 2014 and 2018, the number of cases taken to court fell by 44 per cent.
The legal action has considerable support from senior victims’ representatives.
Vera Baird QC, the former Attorney General who stepped down from her role as police and crime commissioner for Northumbria last week and will shortly take up the role of Victims Commissioner, said: “The CPS had begun to improve, seeing challenges to rape convictions instead of obstacles, working to devalue prejudice to produce both better results and improved victim care. It is shocking that they have gone into reverse. Whilst complaints of rape have tripled prosecutions have slumped.
“Something has brought this change. There is no essential difference between rapes then and rapes now. This case is essential to get to the reason for this forensic somersault. Rape complainants are not to be used as tools in some sort of numbers hierarchy. There are people who society has already let down and are currently being let down twice.”
And Claire Waxman, Independent Victims’ Commissioner for London, added: “The plummet in charges is of great concern and why I have been leading an extensive review of rape cases in London as we must identify what is driving this decline.
“If the CPS have changed their policy without consultation and it is impacting victims’ access to justice, then this must be remedied immediately. Failure to do so will hinder victims’ recovery and place the public at risk by allowing potentially serious offenders to go unpunished.”
The EVAW’s lawyers at CWJ sent a ‘Letter Before Action’ to the CPS, and has opened a CrowdJustice fundraising appeal to support the legal challenge.
It said EVAW has been driven to action after many years of monitoring rape and justice system statistics and outcomes, and after hearing from its member organisations and many individual women about appalling decision-making by the CPS in rape cases.
EVAW Coalition Co-Director Sarah Green said: “We have strong evidence to show that CPS leaders have quietly changed their approach to decision-making in rape cases, switching from building cases based on their merits back to second-guessing jury prejudices. This is extremely serious and is having a detrimental impact on women’s access to justice.
“We are witnessing a collapse in justice after rape at a time when increasing numbers of women are speaking out and reporting these crimes. Instead of building on more than a decade’s painstaking work to bring cases with strong evidence to trial, the CPS is taking us backwards, resulting in a terrible outcome.
“We’re hearing from women who’ve been raped, and from our member organisations who support survivors of rape, and they are telling us about cases being dropped for reasons that are hard to understand.
“Our society has agreed that really serious allegations with strong evidence should be tested in court – that’s the basis of our criminal justice system. So it can’t be right that our independent prosecution service has covertly made a significant change which we believe is resulting in anonymous decision-makers discarding cases that should be heard in court. That they have done this without consultation, and without regard for the likely impact on women and girls, is appalling.
“The failure to prosecute and deter rape makes us all less safe. This is why we feel compelled to bring this case and why we are asking the public to help us fund it. We want the CPS to immediately reinstate the ‘merits’ approach for decision-making in rape cases, and we want all cases which may have been unfairly dropped reviewed.”
The CrowdJustice appeal can be found at www.crowdjustice.com/case/justice-after-rape.