Do the Crown Prosecution Service Have Targets for Rape Conviction?
In recent news, it has been revealed that The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may have implemented secret targets for prosecutors in relation to rape cases. This may have resulted in tens-of-thousands of rape cases being dropped.
An unofficial policy which called on prosecutors to have ‘levels of ambition’ and to strive to achieve a 60% conviction rate in rape cases, is alleged to have encouraged prosecutors to drop rape cases that did not have a high chance of conviction.
This could go some way to explaining why prosecutions and conviction in rape cases are at their lowest in ten years. Although the suspected change of policy was reported by the Guardian last year, where it was claimed that prosecutors were encouraged to be more risk-averse in pursuing cases and to take a proportion of ‘weak cases out of the system’. The CPS have repeatedly denied any change in approach. A CPS spokesperson said:
“Rape is a devastating crime, and CPS policy is clear: whenever the legal test is met, our dedicated prosecutors will bring charges, no matter how challenging the case. This policy has not changed. Every decision is and always has been taken in the same way, following the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
The Law Society Gazette was first to uncover the alleged targets imposed on prosecutors between 2016 and 2018 when they were referred to in HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate reports. The CPS has now admitted to the Law Society Gazette in a statement that the targets were ‘not appropriate’ and may have been a ‘perverse incentive’ which potentially deterred prosecutors from taking more complex cases forward.
When will prosecutors take cases forward?
Public policy has been that a case should be prosecuted where it is in the public interest and the likelihood of conviction is ‘realistic’. However, in addition to this general policy, prosecutors were asked to meet “levels of ambition”. Performance measures were introduced in 2008 for a range of crimes and were expressed as a conviction rate. Between 2008-2016 the conviction percentage for rape was 76.5 per cent, however in 2016 this was lowered to 60 per cent.
The director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, Harriet Wistrich, said:
“If you have a target and you want to try and meet that target … you’re essentially not applying the correct test. The test ought to be ‘more likely than not’ … They are in violation of their own code.”
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