The Guardian view on falling rape prosecutions: women’s rights are regressing

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/30/the-guardian-view-on-falling-prosecutions-womens-rights-are-regressing

Editorial

Progress is being rolled back around the world. Rightwing governments are not the only ones to blame

Thu 30 Jul 2020 18.56 BSTLast modified on Fri 31 Jul 2020 04.37 BST

March against rape and sexual violence in central London in 2011
 ‘The state of rape prosecutions in England and Wales is now an outrage and a national shame.’ Photograph: Janine Wiedel Photolibrary/Alamy

We are going backwards. The number of reported rapes that result in convictions has long been alarmingly low. But the state of rape prosecutions in England and Wales is now an outrage and a national shame. The number of people prosecuted and convicted is at its lowest on record, while reported cases have risen sharply. Prosecutions more than halved from 5,190 in 2016-17 to only 2,102 in 2019-20. Meanwhile, the police recorded 55,130 rapes, up from 41,616 three years earlier.

Campaigners and the victims’ commissioner, Vera Baird, say this effectively amounts to decriminalisation. The Crown Prosecution Service notes that the police are referring fewer cases. But they have made clear their concerns that the CPS has moved to a more risk-averse approach. Though the service insists it has not changed tack, the drop in prosecutions coincided with advice from senior CPS figures to specialist rape prosecutors to “put a touch on the tiller” and take a proportion of “weak cases out of the system”, amid criticism of the low conviction rate. That rate has indeed now risen. But the total number of convictions dropped, from 2,991 to 1,439. More rapists are free in the community.Advertisement

While the CPS blueprint for improvements has some sensible recommendations, such as training specialist prosecutors to understand tactics employed by offenders and victim behaviour, they are insufficient, and the five-year timescale too leisurely. The government’s review into the handling of rape in the criminal justice system should adopt recommendations made by Northern Ireland’s Gillen review, including legal representation for complainants and providing the jury with guidance on rape myths in every trial.

Above all, we need leaders to show that women’s safety is a priority. Women’s ability to control and protect their own bodies is regressing across the globe. The attack on reproductive rights has gone hand in hand with damage to the most fundamental right to physical safety. It is not only long-established laws and policies but also relatively recent advances that face challenge. In part, this is a backlash against hard-won progress. It also reflects the role that misogyny has played in the rise of the populist right, though it is hardly unique to it. Poland is threatening to leave a treaty aimed at preventing violence against women – at a time when the pandemic has seen domestic violence soar worldwide – after President Andrzej Duda narrowly won re-election with a socially conservative and homophobic campaign. In the US, the justice department rewrote its definition of domestic violence last year, producing much more restrictive terms that disregard elements such as psychological abuse.

But rightwing governments are not the only culprits. In 2017, France passed a landmark street harassment law, and Emmanuel Macron urged other countries to make women’s rights a “great global cause”. Yet the president’s new justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, is an outspoken opponent of the street harassment law and the #MeToo movement, and Mr Macron has appointed a man accused of rape as interior minister. An appeals court in Paris has told prosecutors to reopen their probe into Gérald Darmanin, who denies any wrongdoing; a judge had dismissed the case against him after a preliminary investigation was dropped.

Complacency and banal political or bureaucratic imperatives can damage women’s lives just as ideologically driven campaigns can. This is a particularly dangerous period, where the impact of the pandemic absorbs attention that might be paid to other issues, and the economic crisis makes people more vulnerable to abuse.

Yet thousands have marched in Warsaw and other Polish cities, outraged by their government’s plan to withdraw from the treaty. Protesters took to the streets in France over Mr Macron’s appointments. And this month the CPS and police were forced to drop the “digital strip search” policy that had made women in England and Wales divulge all their mobile phone data, following sustained campaigning and a legal challenge from two complainants. It is enraging to be forced to refight the same old battles, yet progress can and is being made. Women have every right to despair, but are refusing to do so. There is too much work to be done.

Domestic Abuse Bill in Parliament

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We are lobbying for the Bill to: recognise that domestic abuse victims are mostly women; provide vital resources so women and children can escape; extend all protections and resources to immigrant women and women with disabilities. 

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As a member of the Support Not Separation Coalition we are lobbying for the Bill to prevent family courts enabling violent fathers to abuse mothers and children. 
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DWP ignored coroner’s call to take action to save claimants from suicide

By John Pring for Disability News Service

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rejected a coroner’s call to act to prevent benefit claimants taking their own lives, following the suicide of a young woman who had told her work coach that she intended to kill herself.

Documents released this week under the Freedom of Information Act show that DWP dismissed both the coroner’s plea to take action, and the findings of an inquest jury which had concluded that a jobcentre’s failings had contributed to the death of 31-year-old Faiza Ahmed (pictured), from Limehouse, east London.

But the documents have also led to fresh allegations of institutional racism and have again exposed the cruelty and harshness of DWP’s benefit sanctions regime.

They were released as the Green party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, wrote to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking it to reconsider its decision not to hold its own inquiry this year into the deaths of claimants that have been linked to DWP.

This week, Faiza’s brother, Mohammed, told Disability News Service (DNS) that DWP had shown no remorse after his sister’s death.

He has backed growing calls for a judge-led inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of claimants.

The eight-day inquest led to a narrative verdict by the jury, which concluded that failures by DWP, London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan police all contributed to his sister’s death on 7 November 2014.

The coroner, Mary Hassell, produced a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report – a step taken by coroners when they think individuals or organisations can take action to prevent further deaths – and sent it to the police, ambulance service and DWP.

Their responses have only been released for the first time this week following a series of freedom of information requests by DNS.

The Judicial Office said this week that the PFD report into Ahmed’s death was not previously published on the website of the chief coroner due to an “administrative oversight”.

The report was written in January 2016, just a few months after DNS had revealed the existence of another PFD, also written by Mary Hassell, following the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.

That PFD, which concluded that O’Sullivan’s death was triggered by the decision to wrongly find him fit for work, had led to the prime minister twice being questioned over DWP’s failings in the House of Commons.

Years of further revelations have followed, linking DWP with further deaths of claimants and exposing its repeated efforts to cover up those links, amid growing calls for an independent inquiry, and even calls for criminal prosecutions of ministers and senior civil servants for misconduct in public office.

Now, with the documents released this week, that pressure on DWP should increase again.

The documents show that, when responding to the PFD report written by Mary Hassell at the end of Faiza Ahmed’s inquest, DWP dismissed both the jury’s findings and the coroner’s call for action.

The inquest in January 2016 had lasted eight days.

It heard that Faiza had a history of mental distress and became suicidal during two days in November 2014, after reporting an attempted rape in her home.

The inquest heard of failings by the police officers who visited her after she reported the attempted rape early on 6 November, and further failings of the force and the ambulance service after she called for an ambulance the next afternoon and said she wanted to kill herself.

She took her own life shortly after the emergency services left her flat that afternoon.

But earlier that day – as described by the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, who covered the inquest in January 2016 – she had visited Poplar jobcentre to explain why she was three days late to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance.

A statement from her brother, read out at the inquest, described how Faiza had previously been sanctioned by the jobcentre for turning up late and missing appointments, and lived with the constant fear of being sanctioned, and the understanding that DWP did not believe her when she said she had depression.

Mohammed told DNS this week that Faiza had been sanctioned at least once and was “regularly threatened” with further sanctions.

He said this had a “horrible” impact on her. “Whenever we saw her, she was absolutely broken from it,” he said. “She was scared, worried and upset.

“She was a strong, independent person but she knew that if she was sanctioned, she would have nothing.

“As much as we were there to help her, both financially and emotionally, she wanted to do things for herself, so she was too proud to ask for anything.”

He said DWP’s sanctions regime was “horrific” and was based on “threats and intimidation”.

When Faiza arrived at the jobcentre on 7 November, she was given a form by the work coach to explain her failure to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) on time.

She wrote on the form that, between 4 and 7 November, she had been “busy trying to kill myself, drinking non-stop”. She left the moment she handed over the form.

After she had gone, the work coach discussed what she had written with a manager, but they decided not to contact the emergency services.

DWP’s “six-point plan” says its staff should summon emergency help if a claimant declares an attempt to kill themselves and is “distressed, at serious risk or in immediate danger”.

But that action was not taken. Instead, the inquest heard, someone at the jobcentre made an urgent referral to the community mental health team, but not until five days later. By that time, Faiza had been dead for nearly five days.

In its response to the PFD, DWP said: “In this case, based on the information he had, the Work Coach made a judgement that there was no immediate risk to her safety.”

DWP said this information was the form she had completed and her attendance at the jobcentre so she could continue receiving her JSA.

DWP claimed that its processes “were followed both diligently and correctly”, and that its staff “took the necessary steps to invoke the agreed processes that would manage the risk appropriately”, which was “based on the evidence that staff were presented with”.

It added: “It is not our view that any opportunity to engage with any other organisations was missed.”

It said its approach was “under continual review and development”, and the only action it would take would be to issue a reminder to all DWP staff about its existing guidance on suicidal ideation, the same guidance which had failed to save Faiza Ahmed from taking her own life.

It is not known whether, or in what form, this reminder was issued.

Faiza’s brother, Mohammed, an officer with London Fire Brigade, told DNS this week that he had been very close to his sister, and remembering how she was treated still makes him angry, nearly six years after she died.

He said: “There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think of my sister.”

It was only through the family’s efforts, and the support of campaigners and lawyers, that they secured a longer inquest to examine in front of a jury whether any public body had contributed to Faiza’s death.

Otherwise, there would have been a shorter inquest and the failings of DWP would probably never have been exposed.

Mohammed said he remembered DWP’s attitude as “blasé” and that its refusal to accept the criticism and the call for action from the coroner’s PFD and the jury “was no surprise” as the department had been “very defensive, very guarded, not looking to help” and had shown “no remorse”.

He is certain that racism lay at the heart of the way his sister was treated by DWP, even if it was “indirect” and not immediately obvious.

This was because the harshness of austerity and DWP’s welfare reforms had a disproportionate impact on people of colour, he said.

He said: “You can’t separate it. It definitely, definitely had an impact; 100 per cent it was there.”

He believes the jobcentre would have called the emergency services if his sister had been a white woman.

He added: “The class thing doubles it up. Would it have happened to a young white woman in Hampstead Heath? No, not in my opinion.”

To this day, he cannot understand how the jobcentre could have failed to act after seeing the state his sister was in and what she had written on the form. Instead, he said, they just “waved it off”.

Now he believes DWP has “got away with it”.

He has backed growing calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants.

He said: “A judge-led inquiry on its own would be some justice. It would at least have some weight and would get justice for those families.”

Even better, he says, would be for former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was in charge of DWP when his sister died, to be brought to justice.

DNS has previously laid out a case for Duncan Smith and other senior DWP figures to face criminal charges of misconduct in public office.

Mohammed said: “For a lot of people who have lost their loved ones and certainly for me, Iain Duncan Smith being brought to bear in some way would be one of the most wonderful days ever in history.

“But an inquiry which highlighted what they did was wrong and should never have happened would go a long way for me towards some kind of closure for me for my sister, 100 per cent.”

Following his sister’s death and through the inquest, their family were supported by the grassroots women’s group Women Against Rape.

Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape, said: “Faiza’s tragic suicide exposed the racism and uncaring cruelty of the DWP’s sanction regime.

“We’ve worked with many women up against similar brutality when trying to get basic benefits or compensation to recover after rape.

“Often it’s been women in the movement who’ve challenged these appalling injustices and campaigned for everyone’s rights, but that work goes mostly unacknowledged.”

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said the PFD report had not been published until this week because of an “administrative oversight” by the chief coroner’s office.

A DWP spokesperson said its position was laid out in the response to the coroner’s PFD, and declined to comment further.

The department refused to say how it justified its failure to take any action in response to the PFD report, other than reminding staff of existing guidance.

It also refused to say when its response was sent to the coroner, and whether it had asked the chief coroner not to publish the PFD.

It refused to say whether its actions demonstrated a continuing culture that was putting the safety and lives of benefit claimants at risk, and which the department was refusing to address.

And it refused to say why it had made a referral to Faiza Ahmed’s community mental health team five days after she had killed herself.

Police and CPS scrap digital data extraction forms for rape cases

Exclusive: case of two complainants funded by Equality and Human Rights Commission forces U-turn

Alexandra Topping The Guardian

Thu 16 Jul 2020 15.55 BSTFirst published on Thu 16 Jul 2020 09.04 BST

Person using mobile phone
 The Centre for Women’s Justice took on the case of two complaints who argued that the forms – which required complainants to divulge all their mobile phone data – were unlawful, discriminatory and intrusive. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

The Crown Prosecution Service and police have been forced to scrap controversial “digital strip searches” of rape complainants, following a legal threat from two survivors of sexual abuse and sustained campaigning from privacy and human rights groups.

Little more than a year after a new policy around the disclosure of private information was introduced, the police and CPS have made a major U-turn and will withdraw digital data extraction consent forms from operation.

Funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Centre for Women’s Justice took on the case of two complainants who argued that the forms – which required them to divulge all their mobile phone data – were unlawful, discriminatory and intrusive.Advertisement

“We welcome the decision from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and hope it leads to improving confidence in the justice system on the part of survivors of sexual assault,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who said the forms disproportionately impacted women and acted as a barrier to justice.

Courtney, one of the complainants whose report of sexual assault was dropped by the CPS when she refused to hand over her mobile phone, said she hoped the decision would mean other victims of sexual violence would not have to chose between justice and privacy.

“There was nothing consensual about these ‘consent forms’ and it is a relief that the CPS and police have finally accepted that,” she said. “I approach this announcement with some trepidation, however, as I have been so seriously hurt and let down by the criminal justice system in the past. I am concerned that just doing away with the forms won’t necessarily improve practice.”

The second claimant in the case, who was asked for seven years of digital data after telling police she had been raped by a stranger, said: “Infuriatingly, the police and CPS have repeatedly said to the press that they only pursue reasonable lines of enquiry. This is untrue. I hope now that other women won’t be subjected to these unlawful requests.”

In 2018 the Guardian revealed victims faced a postcode lottery around disclosure, with some police forces demanding almost unfettered access to highly personal records from rape complainants before pressing ahead with their cases. The following year the introduction of a new national digital consent form designed to reassure victims about how evidence on their mobile phones might be used inadvertently triggered further suspicions about police access to personal digital records.

The decision to scrap the national consent form comes after an 18-month investigation by the information commissioner’s office (ICO) on “digital data extraction” found that police forces were not giving enough consideration to “necessity, proportionality and collateral intrusion”.

Claire Waxman, London’s victims’ commissioner, called on the police and CPS to implement the ICO’s recommendation of introducing a code of practice to prevent excessive and disproportionate requests for data. “This deters rape victims from pursuing the justice they deserve, and leaves them traumatised and lacking trust in our justice system,” she said.

Further pressure was put on the police and the CPS when a court of appeal judgment – known as the Bater-James judgment – laid out guidelines for officers and prosecutors on how to be lawful and proportionate when asking complainants of rape and sexual assault to disclose data.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This U-turn on digital strip searches is a huge success for our groups, the two women who bravely took on this legal challenge, and the thousands of people who signed our petition.”

In a letter seen by the Guardian, the NPCC told all chiefs of police the forms would be withdrawn from use and replaced by 13 August 2020 – after a consultation with stakeholders and the ICO.

Timothy De Meyer, the NPCC lead for disclosure, said police and prosecutors had a duty to disclose any undermining material, but added that no victim should feel discouraged from reporting a crime. “Searches of digital devices should not be automatic and will happen only when the investigating officer or prosecutor considers there to be a need to access information to pursue a reasonable line of enquiry,” he said.

Harriet Wistrich, the director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, welcomed the withdrawal of the forms but said they should never have been used. “Their effect has been to delay rape cases and deter many victims from coming forward or continuing with their cases,” she said. “We will work with the defendants to ensure something fair and proportionate is put in its place.”

Courtney’s story

After a two-and-a-half-year investigation into my sexual assault case, which had witnesses and a potential second victim, the police told me the CPS was going to drop my case if I didn’t give them a download of my phone. When I asked them what was the reasonable line of inquiry, they told me that I could be lying. There could be something that discredits me on there. I could be hiding something. And to me, that’s not reasonable. I was asked why I was concerned, but actually it’s totally rational to fear giving your phone over to the police. I think most people would not want to give the contents of their phone to their mother, let alone the government or the person who attacked them who may, because of rules around disclosure, get access to it. When I refused my case was immediately dropped.

The CPS turned its back on me and treated me as a suspect – they made it so clear that I was alone and I was powerless. That anyone can rape me with impunity unless I submit to the court’s illegal demands.

And it became clear to me that I needed to work to change that, because it can’t go on. I had my power taken away from me from the assault, I had my power taken away from me from the criminal justice system. I was left in a really bad place. There were times, you know, I didn’t want to be here anymore. But taking up this case, working with the Centre for Women’s Justice, it’s been so important for my mental wellbeing. I feel like, for the first time in a while, I’m coming to terms with everything that happened to me. I want to help other people who have been through this – rehashing everything can be draining, but helping others has given me a purpose and made me feel that at least all of that pain happened for a reason.

I think we really need to start looking at what trauma does and how it can make victims behave. I think we need to look at misogyny in courts. I’d like to see the police and the CPS following the law and giving victims the same legal protections they give defendants. But also huge cuts to the criminal justice system has meant that we just can’t afford to prosecute crime anymore. I think the police, the CPS and the government need to take a hard look in the mirror and decide that rape is a crime worth prosecuting, that prosecuting it is important for public health and safety because it is one of the most vile crimes that exists.

We are facing the ‘decriminalisation of rape’, warns victims’ commissioner

Dame Vera Baird says there has been a ‘catastrophic’ decline in rape prosecutions

Haroon Siddique The Guardian

Tue 14 Jul 2020 00.01 BSTLast modified on Tue 14 Jul 2020 00.09 BST

 Dame Vera Baird said complainants were being denied justice. In the year ending March 2017 the CPS prosecuted 3,671 cases, compared with 1,758 in the year ending March 2019, a drop of 52%. Photograph: Northumbria PCC/PA

Rape has effectively been decriminalised as a result of a collapse in prosecutions that has allowed many offenders to escape justice, according to the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales.

In her first annual report since taking up the role, Dame Vera Baird QC says there has been a “catastrophic” decline in rape prosecutions, with no measures put in place to reverse it.

Endorsing criticisms raised by campaigners against sexual violence, Baird writes: “In effect, what we are witnessing is the decriminalisation of rape. In doing so, 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.”

Baird is a member of a review set up by the government to identify the reasons behind the fall in prosecutions but bemoans the fact that “a year after it was set up, we are nowhere near to completing the review and making recommendations for change”.

She says that the dramatic fall appears to coincide with a series of visits by two senior Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures to specialist rape and serious sexual offences units, reported in the Guardian, in which they told staff to “put a touch on the tiller” when deciding whether to prosecute “weak” cases, in order to boost the conviction rate.

While the CPS has denied a change in prosecution policy, Baird said that “it has failed to offer any convincing explanation to account for the fall in the number of cases being prosecuted”.

In the year ending March 2017, the CPS prosecuted 3,671 cases, compared with 1,758 in the year ending March 2019, a drop of 52%. Baird says that anecdotally some police officers said they had made fewer referrals – which dropped by 22.6% over the same period – because they knew the CPS was prosecuting fewer cases.

“If the CPS is unwilling or unable to deal with this failure effectively to prosecute rape, then the government must act,” she says.

Baird is also critical of prosecutors and police for demanding rape complainants’ phone contents and personal records, using digital processing notices, forms for complainants to sign, introduced early last year, which she says have the effect of allowing police “free rein” to extract data from their mobile phones. In her report, she highlights ending this “intrusive breach of privacy” as a priority for the coming year.

“This situation has to change,” writes Baird. “Victims of rape and sexual assault are being badly let down.”

Shortly after taking office, the commissioner clashed with prosecutors after launching a campaign challenging police access to the mobile phones of those who report being raped.

Prosecutors accused her of scaremongering, distorting the criminal investigations process, and discouraging victims from reporting attacks.

Responding to the report, a CPS spokesperson said: “We share the concerns about the gap between reported rapes and those cases which come to court … Working with police, we are focused on understanding the reasons for the charging gap and are pleased to see the beginning of a reversal of this trend 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.”

Domestic Abuse Bill: AMENDMENTS from Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape, part of the Support not Separation coalition

On family courts –

Insert new clauses into Part 3: Family Proceedings following Clause 75 on cross examination:

  • Remove Section 11 (2A) of the Children and Families Act 2014 which presumes that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents. 

RATIONALE: This has resulted in a presumption of contact for fathers regardless of any history of rape and/or Domestic Abuse. For the welfare of children to be paramount, their safety and the safety of the mother, who is usually the primary carer, must be prioritised over father’s residence and contact. Fathers who are violent to their children or their partners should not have contact with their children. Thousands of children are being harmed physically and psychologically by being forced into contact with fathers they are terrified of.  

  • Reduce the threshold of official evidence required when domestic violence is raised as an issue in the family courts.

    RATIONALE: Evidence must include reports to GP, midwife, counsellor, etc., as well as non-molestation and/or occupation order. This is even more crucial now that the level of convictions for rape and DA are at an all-time low and violent men have near impunity from prosecution. The majority of victims do not report domestic abuse or rape to the police and when they do they can expect little or no protection.

  • Remove Clause 120 in the Adoption & Children Act 2002 which extended the definition of significant harm (Children Act 1989) to include “impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another”. 

RATIONALE: This addition to the definition of significant harm was meant to protect children. It has instead been used to take children from mothers who are victims of DA, further victimising the child and the mother instead of providing the help and support they need to leave violent men. It is unbearably cruel and discriminatory. DA has become the most common reason to remove children from their mother, thus isolating children from their only protector. Violent men know this and taunt telling them, ‘Go ahead and report me and they’ll take the kids from you.’ There is evidence from the US, and we must look for evidence here, that separation from one’s mother causes more serious harm than witnessing DA. For this reason, the New York courts have ruled that children should not be removed from mothers who are victims of DA.

  • End the use of ‘parental alienation’ to remove children from their mothers. Ensure that courts take seriously children’s allegations of sexual abuse by fathers.  

RATIONALE: Children and mothers who make accusations of violence are disbelieved or dismissed even when these incidents have been reported to the police or others in authority and despite evidence of how pervasive DA is.

Mothers are routinely accused of poisoning their children’s minds when they report what the children are telling them. It is horrifying that mothers are instructed by the court to force their children, whom they know are being abused, often sexually, to have contact with the man who is abusing them. The law is supposed to protect children not rapists. Mothers who defy the court in order to protect their children risk having their children taken from them and left without protection. As a result, mothers are increasingly wary of mentioning DA.

‘Parental alienation’ is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic abuse and defended paedophilia. It is shocking that CAFCASS which was created to protect children is using this. It shows the impact that organisations of domestic abuse deniers have had on the family courts.

  • Prioritise implementation of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 so that resources are made available to mothers and children facing domestic abuse, in particular access to benefits and housing, without which many women are trapped with violent men.

RATIONALE: Section 17 exists to help ensure that children are raised by their family and therefore provides for local authorities to use their resources to keep children within the family. But it is not being implemented. This is particularly outrageous given that austerity policies have targeted single mother families: over 4 million children are living in poverty, single mothers are 75% of those affected by Universal Credit, and 86% of austerity cuts have been borne by women. Section 17 is needed more than ever and could make a massive difference to DA victims. Instead huge amounts of money are spent wrenching screaming children from their mothers’ arms, causing significant and lifelong harm. An increasingly privatised industry is profiting from the pain of children and mothers. This must stop and the original purpose of the law must be adhered to.

  • Open the family courts to public scrutiny. 

RATIONALE: End the secrecy which has shielded the family courts from public scrutiny, and delayed the introduction of protections the women’s movement won in other civil and criminal courts. Transparency can be safely introduced with reference to the law protecting the anonymity of victims of sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1994. The same should be done in the family courts. In many US states family courts are open and this has not been detrimental to children.

INSERT in Part 3, Section 31W:

  • Reinstate legal aid in family cases, so that women are not forced to represent themselves.
  •  Implement Practice Direction 12j and 3AA. Do risk assessments and findings of fact whenever violence is an issue.

Proposed amendments to other parts of the Bill

INSERT in Part 1 Chapter 3, in orderto improve protection by the criminal justice system and civil courts:

  • The police should prioritise investigating crimes of violence against women over minor offences they suspect women of committing.
  • The police should arrest, charge and prosecute violent men, especially when they commit a second or third offence.

This is urgent as the rape and DA conviction rates are at rock bottom granting violent men impunity from prosecution.

Community Resolutions or Out of Court Resolutions are not appropriate for a violent crime and are dangerous.

To make police officers more accountable, take disciplinary action if a woman is murdered after repeated calls to police for help and protection.

  • End the hostile environment for immigrant women: stop women being detained and/or deported when they report DA.
  • End domestic abuse being classed as an either way offence, which results in many cases being closed after 6 months.
  • Make it easier for women to get a non-molestation order (e.g. abolish the costs) and routinely add power of arrest.

DELETE in PART 1, Ch. 4, section 54, section on polygraph conditions:

  • Delete the clause on lie detector tests, which are notoriously unreliable.

INSERT IN PART 1, Ch. 4, section 54:

  • Provide protection from the offender when he is released from prison.

INSERT in PART 1, Chapter 4, Section 56, Clause 1 where the Bill refers to housing (keeping a lifetime council tenancy).

  • Economic abuse and economic independence.
    The Bill includes economic abuse in the definition of Domestic Abuse, but to tackle economic abuse thoroughly, the Bill must also enable a woman’s economic independence from men, regardless of her social class, so that she can leave a violent man. The government must properly fund women’s vital escape routes beginning with: welfare benefits, social housing, and refuges.  

July 2019

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.”

Keir Starmer’s record on rape

Camden New Journal  Letters  6 February 2020

The record on rape

We take issue with the letter from MARTIN PLAUT of NW5 (‘Errors in attacks on Starmer’, January 30).  

He claims that rape “is one of the issues [Sir Keir] feels most strongly about and has worked on most assiduously. His determination has been applauded by the victims of these crimes. When he left office as DPP in 2013 prosecutions for these appalling offences were at their highest.” 

Sir Keir has been applauded by some, but others, including ourselves who work with many victims, have criticised his refusal to end the Crown Prosecution Service policy of prosecuting rape survivors who are disbelieved by the police.

[Cut from the letter we submitted: Such cases are similar to the shocking prosecution of a young woman in Cyprus who reported rape by a group of Israeli men but was forced to retract and was herself jailed.]

We have worked with a number of women the British police bullied to retract: some did, others refused but all were treated as criminals.

One woman raped at age 15 was charged with lying when police claimed to have found no sperm on her T-shirt where her rapist had ejaculated. We helped get a second investigation by another police force who found the sperm and the man was finally prosecuted. She was saved from prison and later sued the police for £20,000.

Many are not so fortunate and face long sentences – often longer than convicted rapists; one woman is in prison for 10 years. Another woman, attacked by strangers on her way home, was given a three year sentence while evidence of the assault was lost or not pursued; her brother had complained of police racism – did that play a part?

We raised such cases at a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer when he was Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-2013), demonstrating how the prosecution of disbelieved victims skews police investigations and undermines women’s ability to report rape.

To no avail – the policy remains.

That police and CPS have got worse since Sir Keir left is not evidence that he was good.

Their decision that victims must hand over mobile phones and social media history, medical and counselling records, which are disclosed to their attacker, has of course led to a further drop in rape prosecutions.

In most British cases it is not the rapists who are on trial but their victims.

Add to this austerity which has made women and children more vulnerable to violence, and has cut escape routes – refuges, benefits, etc.

When under 3 per cent of reported rapes lead to a conviction, rapists have almost complete impunity. Sir Keir didn’t feel strongly enough against rape to confront police sexism, racism and other prejudices, and press for better investigations when he had the power to do so.

LISA LONGSTAFF

Women Against Rape

Fall in rape charges despite rise in reports is ‘creating new victims’

Dame Vera Baird QC warns over failure to prosecute as charge rate drops from 6.8% to 4.2%

PA Media

Thu 29 Aug 2019 00.01 BST

 Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, called for the government to act quickly in its review of the handling of complaints.

The criminal justice system is putting more people at risk by failing to tackle potential serial rapists, the victims’ commissioner has warned.

Dame Vera Baird expressed the concerns as official figures showed that reports of rape are rising but the number of charges being brought has fallen.

Rapes reported to police rose by almost 13,000 to 54,045 in 2017-18, compared with 41,186 the previous year, with 11,913 attacks not recorded as crimes, up from 8,624.

The overall charge rate fell from 6.8% to 4.2%, according to data recorded by public bodies, gathered by the Rape Monitoring Group and published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Baird said the government needed to act quickly in its review of how complaints were handled to make sure victims received justice: “The criminal justice system is letting down current victims and creating new victims by failing to tackle potential serial rapists.”

Only one in every 50 cases results in a conviction. How can this be justice?

She added: “More complainants are coming forward, but fewer cases are being prosecuted and only one in every 50 cases results in a conviction. How can this be justice? We know that nearly four in five victims of sexual assault choose not to report the crimes committed against them. How can we ever give these victims the confidence to report when so few cases ever secure a conviction?

“We need to understand the reasons behind this failure. It is in part down to the treatment of complainants by police and prosecutors – for example, failing to update them on investigations or making intrusive and disproportionate demands on their personal data. We also know that the treatment of complainants in the courtroom can cause trauma and distress.”

The data was recorded by bodies including the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), covering all 43 police forces in England and Wales and the British Transport Police. It was previously published separately.

The CPS decided not to charge any suspects in just under half the cases. For 24,280 of the offences there were “evidential difficulties”, such as the victim not supporting a prosecution. There were 2,238 offences that resulted in a charge or summons, with the outcome for 6,647 not yet recorded.

According to the latest MoJ figures, the average prison sentence for rape is about nine years.

Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the figures were “truly shocking” and evidence of “just how broken the system is”.

She added: “This is a crisis and it needs the highest level of political attention. We urge the prime minister, the home secretary and the justice secretary to get fully involved in the ongoing rape review, from which very little has been heard. We urge them to demand answers as to what is going on. They should also make clear, public reassurances to women, and men, who are considering reporting rape, that meaningful work will be done to improve access to justice.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded and the number of cases going to court is a great cause of concern. That’s why the CPS is taking part in a system-wide review to scrutinise how these cases are being handled.” He added that the “significant fall in the volume of referrals from the police” had contributed to the drop in rape charges.

Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, said it was vital that statistics about rape were made as transparent as possible and she hoped the data would help the criminal justice system do all it could to “prevent this most heinous of crimes”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/29/fall-in-charges-despite-rise-in-reports-is-creating-new-victims

Our response to Guardian report showing a significant fall in prosecutions in England and Wales

Revealed: collapse in rape cases that end up in court, 27 July 2019

• It is shocking that after decades of campaigning by women and repeated official claims that scandals like Savile, Worboys and Rotherham are things of the past, we learn that rape charging has collapsed even further. It is not because victims don’t come forward. There is “a sharp rise in reports of rape made to police … from 2015 to 2019, the number of rape claims … rose by 61%, from 35,847 to 57,882”. Two women a week, many of them mothers, are killed by partners or ex-partners – usually after reporting multiple assaults and threats which go unheeded by police. Rape and domestic violence terrorise women daily, yet perpetrators can count on almost complete impunity.

How much does the latest drop in charging have to do with the abolition of specialist rape investigation units and “digital strip search”? We and many others, including the information commissioner and victims commissioner, objected to this indiscriminate download of victims’ social media. Big Brother Watch claims the police powers used against victims are more extensive than those used against crime suspects; lawyers question whether they are even legal.

Boris Johnson, who as London mayor made sweeping cuts to the police service, now wants to recruit 20,000 additional officers. Will any of them be used to police the terrorism of rape and domestic violence? Or will they be deployed to repress us when we protest against lack of action on sexist or racist violence, climate change, or child poverty?
Cristel Amiss Black Women’s Rape Action Project 
Lisa Longstaff Women Against Rape