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‘Catastrophic’ decline in rape prosecutions has effectively decriminalised rape, victims commissioner warns

A “CATASTROPHIC” decline in rape prosecutions is allowing persistent predatory sex offenders to continue attacking women, the victims commissioner warned today.

In her annual report, Dame Vera Baird said that rape had effectively become decriminalised by the collapse in prosecutions, adding that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was doing nothing to address the problem. 

She wrote that “we are failing to give justice to thousands of complainants.

“In some cases, we are enabling persistent predatory sex offenders to go on to reoffend in the knowledge that they are highly unlikely to be held to account.

“This is likely to mean we are creating more victims as a result of our failure to act.”

In 2019, just 3 per cent of rape complaints led to charges being brought. 

Ms Baird’s report said that the number of cases had fallen by more than half, from 3,671 in the year ending March 2017 to 1,758 in the year to March 2019.

She said that the decline appeared to coincide with prosecutors reportedly being told to apply a “touch on the tiller” away from prosecuting “weak” cases so as to boost conviction rates.

Women’s rights campaigners blamed this on a secret policy change by the CPS. 

Ms Baird said that, although the CPS has denied this, it “has failed to offer any convincing explanation to account for the fall in the number of cases being prosecuted.”

The report came after a dossier of evidence was handed to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland last month by a coalition of women’s groups.

The evidence, which includes testimonies from a CPS whistleblower and complainants, supports the allegations that the fall is the result of policy changes. 

Among the members of the coalition is the Centre for Women’s Justice, whose director Harriet Wistrich told the Morning Star: “A proper scrutiny of that evidence will cast serious doubt on the CPS assertions that they are not primarily responsible for the dramatic falls in the number of cases being prosecuted.”

The CPS claimed that it was “focused on understanding the reasons for the charging gap” and has seen more prosecutions in the past year. 

“However, we know there is much more to be done to drive up confidence in the justice system and will announce further plans shortly,” a spokesperson added. 

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