Rape 'effectively decriminalised' as convictions fall by 27%

12 September 2019, 09:27 | Updated: 12 September 2019, 16:00

The number of convictions for rape has dropped by more than a quarter in a year - amid allegations the offence is being "effectively decriminalised".

There were 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative lesser offence in 2018-19 - down from 2,635 in the previous 12 months, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

The charge rate has also dropped significantly - down from 64.3% in 2014-15 to 48.2% this year.

There has also been a fall in the number of rape suspects referred by the police to the CPS for a decision on charging - down from 4,370 in 2017-18 to 3,375 in 2018-19 - a decline of 22.8%.

Harriet Wistrich, founder of the Centre for Women's Justice (CWJ), described the figures as "appalling", tweeting: "We say fault lies first and foremost with (the) CPS."

The CPS has denied changing its policies on rape, but the CWJ claims it has evidence that a different approach was implemented almost three years ago.

It is preparing to launch a judicial review against the CPS over claims that cases are being dropped without good reason.

Ms Wistrich said the CWJ had "gathered evidence from a variety of significant sources", adding: "Taken together, (these sources) provide a compelling picture that the primary cause of this collapse in prosecutions emanates from a deliberate change in the approach taken by the CPS dating back to late 2016."

Andrea Simon, head of public affairs at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, claimed there had been an "effective decriminalisation of rape" and that women were being "victimised by a system that does not take them seriously".

She continued: "Leadership across the CPS needs to answer for these figures."

The CPS said the reduction in charges was because of "a number of factors", including a fall in the number of referrals from police, and an increase in the volume of time-consuming digital data.

Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions, told Sky News there had been "no change in our approach towards prosecuting awful offences such as rape and other crimes of sexual violence".

Responding to the allegation that policies changed in late 2016, he said the claim referred to "ongoing training for prosecutors which you would expect to take place in all areas and all of our teams".

He said the approach involved "every prosecutor [applying] the evidential stage test - is there sufficient evidence to give a reasonable prospect of conviction".

Mr Hill said the independent CPS watchdog, Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, would hold a review of rape charging decisions "to increase accountability and reassure victims of sexual offences".

The statistics are contained in the CPS's annual Violence Against Women and Girls report.