Secret policy change by CPS cut number of rape trials, high court told

Application on behalf of women’s group follows concern over fall in number of charges

Owen Bowcott and Caelainn Barr  The Guardian  Tue 17 Mar 2020

legal challenge over alleged changes to Crown Prosecution Service policy on bringing charges in rape cases has been dismissed by the high court.

The judges, Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, and Lord Justice Singh, denied permission for the case to proceed to a full hearing on Tuesday.

The challenge by a coalition of victims’ organisation sought to prove that the CPS had raised the bar for charging suspects in rape cases.

The high court heard arguments that there had been a “precipitous drop” in the number of rape cases brought to trial due to a secret and unlawful change in policy adopted by the CPS.

The CPS adopted an internal conviction rate target of 60% of cases charged and became increasingly risk averse although it consulted with no one outside the organisation about the new approach, Phillippa Kaufmann QC told judges.

Her application on behalf of the End Violence Against Women Coalition follows concern over steep falls in rape charges and convictions in recent years at a time when an increasing number of women have been making rape complaints to police.

“This change [in policy] was brought about in secrecy and no one was told even afterwards,” Kaufmann told the court.

The changes were introduced from late 2016 after an internal review by the CPS’s director of legal services, Gregor McGill, it was alleged.

It resulted in refresher training of prosecutors that in effect abandoned the established policy of a what is known as a “merits-based approach” to assessing whether to charge suspects in rape cases, Kaufmann said.

“The easiest way to [raise the conviction rate],” she added, “is to whip out those cases that are a bit weaker … No one knew about it until it was leaked by an individual inside the CPS.”

The consequence, Kaufmann said, was that some prosecutors reverted what had been known as the bookmakers’ approach – guessing the probability of a jury convicting on the evidence and becoming reluctant to press ahead with more difficult rape cases.

But the CPS, which successfully, resisted the challenge, argued that courts should not become “an arbiter of prosecutorial policy”.

In written submissions, lawyer for the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Max Hill QC, said it was factually wrong to allege that prosecutors have now adopted a “bookmaker’s test” approach.

The CPS maintained that the courts should dismiss the claim at this preliminary stage and not proceed to a full judicial review of the arguments.

“There has not been a change in policy,” Tom Little QC, for the DPP, told the court. “The fall on conviction rates is due to a far wider range of factors involving the police that are now the subject of a government review.”

Rape victims who donated to the legal challenge, because they felt failed by the CPS, are set to see their donations go towards the institution’s legal costs.

The CPS is pursuing legal costs against the women’s rights’ charity the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and asked for a request to cap legal costs to be denied. The CPS were awarded £35,000 – £41, 000 in legal costs by judges ruling on the request for a judicial review into the claims.

The coalition’s director, Sarah Green, said: “We have no regrets about bringing this case. It was the right thing to do, and it was entirely necessary to challenge our justice system institutions when they are failing to keep women safe and deliver access to justice.

“We have been approached by so many women who have been let down by the CPS as we prepared this case. We know there are really serious problems. But instead of working with us, the CPS chose to fight us.

“It is a long way from the kind of leadership we need in our public institutions … The CPS is arguably failing to keep with the times on expectations for justice after sexual violence. The situation as it is cannot hold, it amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape.”

The charity received hundreds of donations, many for £10 and £20, via a crowd justice campaign ahead of the hearing. Many messages left with the donations were from women who said they had been raped but denied justice. One donor wrote: “Having been through the system myself and being failed on every level I so wish you every success.” Under the anonymous donation of £10, someone simply wrote: “I never got justice.”

The legal challenge also received £10,000 from the family of Jill Saward, the Ealing rape victim who became a leading figure in the fight against sexual violence.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, who supported the claim, said: “We are deeply, deeply disappointed that [the judges] didn’t see there was a basis on which the case arguable.

“We feel they were just not prepared to grapple with all the detail and ultimately they saw it as a factual dispute. The court was not prepared to get involved.”

Wistrich said they were considering appealing against the ruling at the court of appeal. “We don’t see this as a loss because we think we won in the court of public opinion.”

On the heavy costs of £41,000 imposed on the claimants, she added: “ It’s astounding that the CPS have pushed for as much in costs against a small women’s charity.”

NEWS FLASH: Victory after living for 17 years in limbo!

Ms O from Cote D’Ivoire – announces today 3 March 2020 that she has finally won refugee status.

Speaking at today’s self-help session (which BWRAP helps coordinate) Ms O described how the immigration judge at her appeal hearing intervened to stop the Home Office barrister from putting intrusive and upsetting questions to her about her experiences.

One of the French-speaking sisters in the session translated for her – “I hardly knew what was happening in the hearing because when the Home Office started interrogating me I broke down with my hands in my head. The judge was so angry and told them to stop. Last week I got a call from my barrister who confirmed I can finally stay here – I’m so happy after living so many years destitute and suffering terrible things here in the UK too. I thank everyone for their support over all these years“.

Ms O’s victory is the latest in a series of fantastic successes at Appeal by women using our collective self-help support overturning racist and sexist decisions in the Home Office’s hostile environment.

Come to the Crossroads Women’s Centre International Women’s Day event to find out more about our work and how you can get involved. . .

International Women’s Day @ Crossroads Women’s Centre

Join us in the afternoon at the Crossroads Women’s Centre – let’s talk about campaigns for justice, compensation, asylum . . .

IWD 8M: OPEN DAY with the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and other organisations at the Crossroads Women’s Centre All welcome

Programme 12-6pm


12-12.30 Welcome and exhibition Honouring Women

12.30-12.50 Film: Poverty is not neglect – protect the bond between mother and child + open mic with Support not Separation

12.50-1.10 Film: Women of Colour North and South + open mic with Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike (GWS)

1.10-1.30 Film: End detention, destitution, deportation + open mic with All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Global Women Against Deportation

1.30-2 Break and refreshments

2-2.40 Film: All Work and No Pay (1976) + open mic with the Wages for Housework Campaign/GWS

2.40-3 Film: Breastfeeding & a care income – for health & climate justice (2019) + open mic with the Milk of Human Kindness

3-3.30 Break and refreshments

3.30-3.50 Film: Disability is hard work – an independent income is our right + open mic with WinVisible

3.50-4.10 Film: Survival sex is not a crime + open mic with English Collective of Prostitutes and International Prostitutes Collective

4.10-4.30 Film: Prosecute rapists not rape survivors + open mic with Women Against Rape

4.30-4.45 Break and refreshments

4.45-5.05 Film: Opposing occupation, weapons and war + open mic with Payday men’s network and Queer Strike

5.05-5.45 Palestinian women speak for themselves + open mic with WoC GWS and Payday

5.45-6 Film: Striking women around the globe + open mic with GWS and WoC GWS