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Girls & Women

Why UK Women's Groups Are Threatening Legal Action Against the Crown Prosecution Service


Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN’s Global Goal 5 calls for gender equality, including a specific target of ending all violence against and exploitation of women and girls. Join the movement by taking action here to support gender equality and help end gender-based violence. 

A coalition of women’s rights groups across the UK has published a statement on Monday threatening legal action against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) — the main public prosecuting agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. 

The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition has accused the CPS of dropping sexual offences cases without proper reason, which it claims has led to a “dramatic” fall in rape cases being charged. 

EVAW alleges that the CPS has “covertly” changes its approach to decision-making on rape cases. 

“We argue that this change in practice, and the resulting collapse in cases going to court, discriminates against women and girls, and is a major failure to protect their human rights,” EVAW said in the statement

“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,” it added.

EVAW is being represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), and has launched a CrowdJustice fundraising campaign to support the legal challenge. 

Sarah Green, co-director of the EVAW Coalition, said they 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,” Green added. 

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The number of rapes being reported to the police nearly tripled between 2014 and 2018, up by 173%, according to CPS and Ministry of Justice figures cited by EVAW. 

But the number of cases charged and sent to court is reportedly down by 44%. 

It means, according to EVAW, that a woman who reported rape to the police in 2014 had a one in five (20%) chance of it getting to court. 

Now, women have a less than 4% chance of getting their case heard in court, the coalition said. 

“We are witnessing a collapse in justice after rape at a time when increasing numbers of women are speaking out and reporting these crimes,” continued Green. 

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“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,” she said. 

And according to Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, which is supporting the case, the “failure of the criminal justice system effectively to deter rapists is a genuine scandal.

“With every year that passes tens of thousands more lives are destroyed,” he said. 

A spokesperson from the CPS told the BBC: “Sexual offences are some of the most complex cases we prosecute and we train our prosecutors to understand victim vulnerabilities and the impact of rape, as well as consent, myths, and stereotypes.

“Decisions to prosecute are based on whether our legal tests are met — no other reason — and we always seek to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so,” they added. “Victims have the right to ask for a review of their case by another prosecutor, independent of the original decision-maker, and this is another way we can make sure we are fair and transparent in what we do.” 

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On Monday, the coalition’s lawyers at the CWJ sent what’s known as a “letter before action” to the CPS.

When the CPS lawyers get the letter, they’ll then have time to respond to the allegations or ask for an extension to the deadline, according to the BBC. If the CPS doesn't change its policy, it could go to court. 

The coalition said in its statement that it has been “driven to action after many years of monitoring rape and justice system statistics and outcomes.” 

It added that it had heard about “appalling decision-making by the CPS in rape cases” from its member organisations and individuals. 

Lawyers have reportedly collected a dossier of 21 cases where decisions were made not to charge “despite compelling evidence, and in some cases where men were known to be violent and some suspected of being serial offenders.” 

The coalition includes in this dossier the case of Rebecca (not her real name), who was reportedly raped at knifepoint and held prisoner for two days by her boyfriend, a man who was known by the police to be violent. 

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Despite “lots of evidence of violence against Rebecca”, the coalition continues, the CPS prosecutor “dropped the case saying WhatsApp messages she had sent to placate her attacker could be misinterpreted by the jury.”

It also includes the case of another woman, Gina (not her real name), who was reportedly raped repeatedly by her husband but the case was dropped because the CPS prosecutor “felt the jury may not understand the dynamics of a coercive and controlling relationship.” 

“Rape in a domestic violence context is a large proportion of rapes reported to police and referred on to CPS,” the statement added. 

Green went on to highlight that “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,” she said.

  • If you've been affected by any of the issues included in this article, you can access the NHS rape and sexual assault support website here, including if you're supporting a person who has experienced rape or sexual assault.