England: Report calls for creation of specialist rape courts to address backlog

England: Report calls for creation of specialist rape courts to address backlog

The criminal justice system is failing rape complainants, and “widespread reform is needed to build trust and secure justice”, a new report has found.

A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) found that a lack of collaboration between the police and prosecutors has led to delays and poor communication with complainants.

Inspectors found that on average, 706 days elapsed from the date of reporting an offence to the police to the start of the trial. The report raised significant concerns about the quality of communication with victims, including that updates to victims about the progress of their case post-charge were frequently disjointed and contradictory, and sometimes did not take place at all.

HMICFRS and HMCPSI have jointly made nine recommendations in the second phase of their inspection, including that:

  • police and prosecutors should review and significantly improve communications with victims from the point of charge onwards;
  • the Ministry of Justice should set up specialist rape offence courts to help clear the significant Crown Court backlog of rape cases; and
  • the Home Office and the Ministerial Lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences should consult widely on the benefits of a commissioner with explicit responsibility for tackling rape and serious sexual offences.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams and HM Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate Andrew Cayley CMG QC said: “Rape victims are continually and systematically failed by the criminal justice system. We found many hardworking professionals who are dedicated to supporting victims and pursuing perpetrators, but we also found some deep divisions between the police and prosecutors which must be overcome.

“While previous reports have found similar problems, ours is different. We looked at the process from start to end, directly following the victim’s experience. The results are unacceptable. The number of cases which result in a charge and proceed to court represents only a small proportion of the total cases reported to the police. Victims should not have to wait years for a court date, experience multiple adjournments, and then report, as we have heard, that the process is worse than the offence.

“We have made a series of urgent recommendations that, if acted on, have the power to transform victims’ experiences. But we cannot continue to make the same recommendations – and that is why we are calling for widespread reform of the entire criminal justice system, supported by long-term funding.”

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