By Claire Cozens
LONDON, July 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Prosecutions and convictions for rape fell to a record low in England and Wales last year, official data showed on Thursday, amid warnings the system is failing survivors.
The number of prosecutions fell by about 30% year on year to 2,102 in 2019/20, while convictions were down 25% at 1,439, data from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed.
The Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales Vera Baird, who warned this month that prosecutions for rape were now so low that it was effectively being decriminalised, called the drop "utterly shameful."
"Rape is a serial offence and rapists carry on until they are stopped," she said in a statement, urging the CPS to prosecute more sex offenders.
Baird said the drop had been caused by a CPS policy of only prosecuting rape cases that were "rock-solid", which she said had been adopted in 2016/17. Since then, the number of prosecutions has more than halved.
A CPS spokeswoman said there had been no change in policy.
"In every case we apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors and will prosecute whenever our legal test is met, no matter how challenging the case," she said in comments emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill, who heads the CPS, said it was clear that more needed to be done to support victims and ensure the gap between reports of rape and cases that reach the courts could be closed.
We're DELIGHTED at today's Court of Appeal judgement in our favour - thanks to our BRILLIANT lawyers at @centreWJ We now look forward to our full day in court for proper examination of CPS change in policy & practice on charging rape cases #RapeJusticeNowhttps://t.co/rhtvGZohT0— EVAW Coalition (@EVAWuk) July 30, 2020
The CPS has set out a five-year blueprint to ensure sex offenders are brought to justice, including improving communications with victims and working with police to strengthen cases.
On Thursday, the End Violence Against Women coalition of advocacy and support groups said it had won the right to bring a judicial review to court challenging the CPS policy in rape cases, which they said has caused a fall in prosecutions.
"We have seen a vacuum of leadership and accountability within the CPS when it comes to rape, with no recognition of the harm done to the thousands of survivors being failed by the system," said its director, Sarah Green, in a statement.
(Reporting by Claire Cozens @clairecoz, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)