Boris Johnson has apologised to rape victims over “inadequacies” in the criminal justice system that led to a sharp drop in the prosecution of sexual offences. [J4MB: An appalling response. The “sharp drop” has resulted from the CPS bringing fewer prosecutions with little or no prospect of resulting in a conviction. One inevitable consequence has been fewer innocent men being sent to prison.]
The prime minister was challenged by Sir Keir Starmer in the House of Commons today over what the Labour leader described as record low convictions.
During prime minister’s questions, Starmer said that “on the prime minister’s watch, rape prosecution convictions are at a record low, court backlogs are at a record high, victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it”.
He added: “This wasn’t inevitable, it’s the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts, and even now the government isn’t showing the urgency and ambition that’s needed.”
Johnson argued that he had “fought” for tougher action against rapists and sexual offenders throughout his time as mayor of London.
He added: “Of course, to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma they have been through, the frustration that they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.”
However, Johnson faced demands to apologise after he later dismissed Starmer’s questions on the issue as “jabber”.
In his closing remarks after the pair’s exchange in the Commons chamber, the prime minister launched an attack on Labour: “We’re getting on with the job — they jabber, we jab. They dither and we deliver. They vacillate and we vaccinate.”
Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic abuse and safeguarding, claimed his remarks showed he was not taking the issue seriously.
She said: “For the prime minister to describe questions about rape convictions as ‘jabber’ is disgraceful. But this is the man who once said investigating child sexual abuse was ‘spaffing money up the wall’ — he simply doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence.
“He should apologise for his comments and his government’s appalling record.”
Johnson went on to tell MPs that the government had allocated £1 billion to clearing the court backlogs and that ministers were acting to ensure that those alleging rape “have people they can listen to and trust who will help them through the trials of the criminal justice experience, but above all we’re helping them by getting our courts moving again”.
Earlier today, charity campaigners told MPs that some police forces were often happy for rape victims to withdraw from cases because it lightens their burden.
Ellie Ball, an independent sexual violence advocacy manager with the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, told the home affairs select committee: “I think there have been a number of cases where when the victim chooses to disengage, the police breathe a sigh of relief because it is one off their plate.
“I think they are demoralised by the lack of prosecutions and feel unable to get these cases forward.”
She also said that in some cases police were actively deterring survivors from pressing ahead with their cases.
She said: “I would say that absolutely happens, not as a policy. But we absolutely see examples of that — the problems are shown very early on to them [survivors] in the process.”
Duncan Craig, from the charity Survivors Manchester, told MPs that many male victims were deterred from reporting rape because they fear being judged and labelled as gay.
He said: “When we talk about sexual violence, rape and serious sexual offences in this country, we talk about it under the realms of violence against women and girl. Sometimes I think that’s all I need to say and then walk away — that is a barrier in itself.
“Time and time again when you ask men what’s the reason for silence … it comes up with fear of judgment. The number one fear of judgment of men was: I didn’t want anyone to think I was gay.
“The fact that people are fearing being labelled as being gay says to me that people think that’s a bad thing. We have to tackle that. It’s not that men don’t want to talk, it’s that they don’t know they can.”
The prime minster’s apology in parliament came after the justice secretary acknowledged last week that government cuts to the legal system were partly to blame for the drop in rape prosecutions and convictions.
Announcing the results of Whitehall review of the handling of rape cases in the criminal justices system, Robert Buckland QC said that he was “deeply ashamed” that convictions had fallen to a record low.
He went on to announce an “action plan” to reverse the decline and return rates to 2016 levels.
A feature of that plan will be a league table system in which police and prosecutors will be scored on their handling of rape cases for the first time. Ministers said that “scorecards” will be published every six months to show how each part of the criminal justice system is performing across different areas of England and Wales.
Campaigners have argued that the Crown Prosecution Service has a poor management record regarding rape. A coalition of women’s groups claimed that between 2016 and 2018 prosectors moved away from a “merits-based approach” for deciding which cases of alleged rape and other serious cases of sexual assault should be prosecuted.
In a judicial review hearing, the campaigners argued that during those two years prosecutors became more risk-averse and shifted towards an “unlawful predictive approach when deciding whether to charge”, which they said effectively “legalised rape”.
However, the Court of Appeal dismissed that claim in March.
Earlier this month Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, told MPs on the justice committee that defendants plead guilty in just 44 per cent of rape cases, compared with 78 per cent for criminal offences generally.
Hill told the committee that “defendants are saying that we need to prove the case”.
He also reiterated that prosecutors face significant difficulties in proving beyond reasonable doubt that an accused is guilty when there is no other evidence than that person’s word against the word of an alleged victim.
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