Home » Watson warns of family impact of plummeting rape conviction rates
Politics Welsh Labour West Wales

Watson warns of family impact of plummeting rape conviction rates

THE NUMBER of rape convictions in England and Wales has fallen to a record low, according to new Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data.

Convictions down two thirds from previous five per cent conviction rate and less than one in 60 rape cases result in a suspect being charged, the Sennedd has heard.

“This is a crisis, and it’s a crisis that we need to take hold of” warned Joyce Watson MS (Labour Mid and West Wales)

In 2019-20, 1,439 suspects in cases where a rape had been alleged were convicted of rape or another crime – half the number three years ago.

The number of completed prosecutions in “rape-flagged” cases was the lowest since tracking began in 2009.

The CPS said it was “working hard to reverse the trend”.

It has announced a “five-year blueprint” to reduce the “gap” between reported cases of sexual violence and those which come to court.

The initiative involves improved working between CPS lawyers and police, “fully resourcing” specialist units for the prosecution of rape and sexual offences and “clear, proportionate” legal advice to investigators so they can focus on “reasonable lines of enquiry”.

Senedd Member Joyce Watson has called for Welsh Government action to protect families impacted by plummeting rape conviction rates.

At the Senedd on Tuesday (22 June), Mrs Watson highlighted last year’s shocking decline in rape convictions.

Mrs Watson MS said: “Trefnydd, I’d like to ask for a statement on the significant fall in rape convictions in Wales. Compared to 2016-17, convictions for rape in 2020 were down by almost two thirds, bearing in mind that they were only successful by 5 per cent in the first place. That is with less than one in 60 rape cases recorded by police resulting in a suspect being charged. Now, I recognise this is a non-devolved area, but what is devolved is the consequence and the fall-out of that. There is never, of course, one person involved in an incident of rape. If that individual happens to be a parent, their children are affected. If they’re children, their parents are affected, their siblings are affected. I remember reading an article where one such case affects 47 different people. Of course, the other side of this, by lack of conviction, and also lack of access to justice that we’ve seen, through temporary and permanent court closures, does mean that, if you are unsuccessful in your conviction, you’re very likely to be equally unsuccessful in the support that you and your family will need. So, I ask you, with respect, to bring something forward in the very near future, because this is a crisis, and it’s a crisis that we need to take hold of.”

Trefnydd Lesley Griffiths responded: “Thank you. As you recognise, the criminal justice system is not devolved to Wales, but of course we work very closely with all police forces in Wales and with our criminal justice partners here in Wales. You’ll be aware of the significant support that has been provided by the Welsh Government over the past decade at least, and if not before. And we won’t be bystanders to abuse, and we have our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, as you know. That’s been informed by global and national evidence that women and girls are disproportionately affected by all forms of abuse. Everyone has the right to be safe, and we have our Live Fear Free line, and anyone experiencing violence or abuse at home can obviously access that free, confidential help, 24/7, via the Live Fear Free helpline, either by chat, by call, by e-mail or by text. And I would urge all Members to ensure their constituents are aware of that.”

Speaking to the BBC last week, Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, said: “It is clear that more needs to be done both to encourage victims to come forward with confidence, and to support them through the criminal justice process so the gap between reports of rape and cases that reach the courts can be closed.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while he does “accept the scale of the problem” in falling prosecutions and convictions, “serious mistakes” were being made “three or four years” ago. These included cases going to court “which shouldn’t have”, said Mr Hill.

He denied that the CPS has a “target” number of convictions that it applies for rape or any other areas of crime.

He added that that the five-year strategy being launched by the CPS is “saying these are the actions which we will take together with our partners in the police to address what we recognise is a real problem”.

The CPS said the drop in rape prosecutions was “a major focus” of its work and it had been “working hard to reverse the trend we’ve seen in recent years”.

“It is early days, but there are encouraging signs with a steady increase in both the proportion and number of cases charged,” a spokesperson said. “If our legal test is met, we always seek to prosecute.”

The CPS added that due to the time it takes to investigate and prosecute a case any changes may take some time to be seen in the data.

A joint statement from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s leads for rape, domestic abuse and charging said the fall in the number of convictions was “very concerning for us”.

It said there were a number of reasons behind the drop in referrals, many due to changes in the way forces operate.

“Over recent years we have worked hard with the CPS to streamline the process and have introduced local ‘gatekeepers’ who can test evidence and give investigators advice, helping to improve cases, without the necessity for a referral,” the statement said.

“However, we are hearing from our officers that it is becoming harder to achieve the standard of evidence required to charge a suspect and get a case into court. Victims tell us clearly how important it is to them to have the evidence tested in this way.

“Investigators are working incredibly hard to try and reach that standard, but in some occasions when they are unable to do so they are taking local decisions through gatekeepers and supervisors.”