England: Guidance released to prosecutors and police on dealing with sharp increase in rape cases

alisonsaundersProsecutors are seeing a 30 per cent surge in the number of rape trials as a backlog of new cases and historical allegations are bearing down on the courts.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) (pictured) and the Metropolitan Police’s assistant commissioner, Martin Hewitthave released guidance today to ensure prosecutors and officers are able to deal with the increased caseload.

The guidance, which is being sent to all chief crown prosecutors and chief constables, emphasises that rape cases should always be given to rape experts and that specialist support service should be supplied if the victim is scared or under pressure. It also indicates that complainants have the right to challenge a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision where it has determined that no additional action should be taken in a case.

The rise in rape claims has come over the past two years. In 2012/13 there were 1,832 rape trials while this year the number will, it is thought, exceed 2,380.

There has also been a steep increase in decisions to charge suspects. Additional government funding might be required to stop delays, the DPP said.

The lord chief justice, Lord Thomas warned before Christmas that crown courts were also being clogged up with sexual offence cases – normally these involve fewer guilty pleas.

The increase has been attributed to rape convictions being secured against public figures over the past few years, pointing to a change in social attitude towards the crime.

Speaking to the Guardian, Ms Saunders said: “This big increase is quite staggering when you bear in the mind that most other crimes are falling.

“Victims and witnesses must be feeling more confident in coming forward.

“Referrals from the police are increasing. We don’t have a breakdown of how many of these cases are and how many are more recent but we don’t think this is a blip.

“People are seeing cases going to court and seeing people being believed, whereas in the past they might have thought that they wouldn’t be believed.

“We have done a lot of work with investigators and prosecutors, making sure they understand the complexity of the issues.

“The number of rape cases going to trial this year is expected to be about 30 per cent more than in 2012/13 … This is good news, but what comes along with it is the inevitable increased workload.”

Around one third of crown court trial days are for sexual offences cases. The DPP said there was a paucity of intermediaries – specialists who assist victims and witnesses.

Ms Saunders added: “We are doing work with the police and courts about what this means. We may well have to make some joint bid for further funds from central government.”

The CPS has established rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) units, comprising lawyers and specialist police rape teams.

Mr Hewitt, who is the national police lead for adult sexual offences, said: “In order to build and maintain people’s confidence in how the police deal with rape and sexual offences and to continue to increase reporting, it is vital that all victims are treated with sensitivity and respect and that their allegations are investigated thoroughly.

Ministry of Justice figures provide that there were 34,161 sex offence prosecutions in the year that ended in June last year. This compares with 28,809 a year before.

Lord Thomas’ annual report to parliament noted in December that “The … biggest impact has been from the very substantial increase in the number of trials involving sexual offences and violence against the person, which tend to occupy more court time and have fewer guilty pleas.

“Despite an increase in court-sitting days over the past two years, a backlog of cases had already built up due to the unexpected increase in work and so resources have not in fact kept pace.”

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