The speech made by Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, in the House of Commons on 25 May 2021.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) for her continued interest in the Government’s work in this area. Rape and sexual violence are devastating crimes that impact on victims for the rest of their life. When victims take the brave step of reporting the crime, they expose their deep personal trauma in the interests of justice. The criminal justice system needs to support those victims, believe them and ensure that their needs are met at the heart of the criminal investigation.
The Government have long recognised that the decline in the number of effective trials for rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales is a cause of significant concern. As a result, we commissioned the end-to-end rape review in March 2019 to look at evidence across the system, from reporting to the police to outcomes in court, in order to understand what is happening in cases of adult rape and serious sexual offences being charged, prosecuted and convicted in England and Wales.
Our review represents a serious commitment to change by the Government and our partners. At its heart will be a set of actions that will drive system and culture change to ensure that the victims feel supported and able to stay engaged with their case. That, combined with updated and stronger case preparation methods, as well as increased communication between all those involved in the prosecution and new charge mechanisms, should lead to more cases reaching court and, we hope, defendants pleading guilty.
To ensure that that happens, I have been tasked by the Prime Minister to take personal leadership of the actions from the review, working with colleagues across Government to ensure accountability of operational partners for delivery. I will of course regularly update the House on our progress.
On the substantive question, I was keen to publish the rape review last year. However, following extensive feedback from the Victims’ Commissioner and the victim sector that we needed to take account of the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s “The Decriminalisation of Rape” report and the pending judicial review judgment, we took the decision to delay publication. We have used the time since that delay to carry out further research and engage with stakeholders in order to formulate an ambitious and wide-reaching action plan, which we will be publishing shortly after recess. When we publish the report, I will present it to Parliament and write to colleagues across the House to outline our approach. I look forward to working with the hon. Member and, indeed, all Members across the House to ensure that this action plan drives the substantial change we need to see.
The failings of the criminal justice system, particularly in cases involving violence against women and girls, have been well documented in this place, yet victims of rape continue to be a last priority for this Government. Yesterday, The Guardian’s analysis of Home Office figures for rape prosecutions was published, and it makes for truly appalling reading. Fewer than one in 60 rape cases reported to the police last year resulted in a suspect being charged. In 2020, more than 52,000 rapes were reported in England and Wales, yet only 843 resulted in a charge or summons. That figure translates to a shocking rate of just 1.6%.
Like many others, I initially welcomed the Government’s commitment to an end-to-end rape review of the criminal justice system, yet we are now more than two years down the line and, after a number of delays, that vital review is still nowhere to be seen. The Justice Secretary recently announced that it would be published before the end of the spring, yet the stakeholder reference group that the Minister alluded to has not been consulted on what is in the rape review action plan. Enough is enough.
The Government have repeatedly acknowledged that they have not been robust enough in their efforts to tackle gender-based violence, but it does not have to be this way. The Labour Government in Wales passed the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which set out 10 national indicators of progress in tackling violence against women and girls by which the Government can be held to account. By contrast, the UK Government cannot even commit to publishing their own review in good time.
So I ask the Minister: will he now take this opportunity to apologise for this delay to thousands of rape victims, and particularly the 40% who are rapidly losing faith in the justice system and withdrawing from prosecutions? Will he support Labour’s call to introduce a similar indicator to that seen in Wales, to facilitate a transparent approach to tackling violence against women and girls? Lastly, will he once and for all confirm an exact date for when this review will be published?
I completely appreciate the hon. Lady’s righteous anger about this situation. As I said in my statement, this is not a matter about which any of us are particularly pleased or proud, and it is a source of regret that the investigation and conviction of rape has been declining for some years. It is a difficult offence to deal with at the best of times, but the significant declines that we have seen in the past few years are absolutely what we wish to address.
However, against that background, I am sorry that the hon. Lady seeks to politicise what should be a cross-party issue, not a Labour/Conservative issue. There are many Members on the Government Benches for whom this has been a significant issue for some time. As Mayor of London, the Prime Minister himself published the first ever violence against women and girls strategy in this country and, indeed, in any major city around the world. This is an issue that has been close to his heart, and indeed mine, for some time.
I should also point out to the hon. Lady that, notwithstanding the fact that there is a document that requires publishing—as I say, that will be published shortly after recess—she should not mistake that for the beginning of the work. Much work has been done thus far, and we are engaged closely with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other partners to make sure that the action plan and the work we need to do to get more cases from report into court has begun already. As the hon. Lady will know, the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Police Chiefs’ Council launched their joint action plan in January this year, and I am pleased that that progress is being made as well.
That is against a background of significant action by the Government over the past decade in various areas of violence against women and girls, which I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate and applaud, ranging from creating the offence of coercive control to outlawing upskirting, stalking, and revenge porn and the threat thereof. We have just passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 with great support across both Houses. Alongside that, we have the information and support campaigns the Government have been running, along with the very significant financial support that has gone into support for victims and witnesses of rape and sexual violence.
The document is important, and it was important to get it right—as I say, we delayed it at the request of the Victims’ Commissioner and the victims sector. Please be under no illusion: we are working extremely hard to try to correct what, as the hon. Lady points out, is an injustice.
Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) [V]
As somebody who both prosecuted and defended probably dozens of rape cases in the course of my career at the Bar, I can say that the Minister is certainly right to recognise that these are always complex and demanding cases. The difficulty of securing the same level of convictions as there is for other types of serious offence has been around for many years—it is not a recent one.
It is also right, of course, to have delayed publication until the decision of the Court of Appeal in the judicial review; otherwise, it might have materially altered the review’s conclusions. However, now that all the challenges have been dismissed on all grounds and the judgment has been handed down, on 14 May, will my hon. Friend undertake to ensure that not only is the document published but that there is proper resourcing to support the joint national plan of action between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police? Doing the same is starting to make a difference in relation to the problems experienced in the past with disclosure. Getting the thing working on the ground, surely, is what we must now tackle very urgently.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee. He is quite right that to get this complicated and difficult piece of work correct, it was appropriate for us to delay. I have to confess that I was pretty gung-ho —anxious to get it out before Christmas. But as I say, the intervention of the sector and the judicial review meant that we had to hold off because of the implications.
My hon. Friend is quite right that the key issue is not so much the document, which is an important statement and political moment, but the operationalisation of what is within it. While we are dealing with a police service of tens of thousands of individuals, a prosecution service with many people involved, and lots of other parties that take a case from report to court, getting them all to both act and think differently—the culture change as well as the operational change—will be an enormous challenge. That is what we are focused on. He will be pleased to know that I have convened a Criminal Justice Board taskforce of key individuals in the organisations involved to try to drive that operational challenge of embedding change.
Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Government are letting down victims of rape and serious sexual violence on every front. Victims are being left waiting years for their day in court, with no support, no communication and no action from the Government. When I have spoken to victims, they tell me that they often feel as though they are on trial and how being left to wait years for their day in court leaves them in a form of purgatory, unable to move on from what has happened to them. Many feel that the justice system is working against them, not for them. That is a complete and utter failing of this Government.
We have been waiting for over two years for the rape review. The Minister refers to the court judgment, but that was handed down weeks ago—again, the date of publication has been kicked into the long grass, with no action from the Government. In that time, another 100,000 rapes are reported to have taken place.
Victims cannot wait any longer for action. The Government must urgently publish their review, which must include hard-hitting recommendations and root-and-branch reform to the CPS, Ministry of Justice and Home Office. We need to see how the Government intend to reverse the shocking deterioration of rape prosecutions they have allowed to happen under their watch and how they intend to improve the criminal justice system for victims of rape and sexual violence. What we do not need are slapdash briefings to the press about what is potentially in the review. No more pilots, no more consultations—what we need is action. We need a plan, and Labour has one. We have set out what we would do in our survivors’ support plan and in our Green Paper, “Ending violence against women and girls”. So today, I ask the Minister: will he commit to backing Labour’s survivors’ support plan? Will he introduce indicators across the Crown Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Justice and police to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, as set out in our Green Paper? Will he finally commit to a date for the publication of the review, or will he continue to watch the effective decriminalisation of rape?
As I said earlier, we have committed that the review will be published shortly after the recess, but as I said in answer to an earlier question, please do not believe that we are waiting for the production of the plan to start the work. Indeed, much of the work has been done already. The hon. Lady will know, for example, that Project Bluestone in Avon and Somerset police is doing fantastic work at the moment on a new model of operation for this kind of investigation and on joint close working between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They have a joint operational improvement board. They have launched their action plan. There was significant support for that and a massive mobilisation across policing to deal with, in particular, the new disclosure guidelines that the Attorney General’s Office has issued in response to the growth in the use of mobile phones in the investigation of crime, particularly in this area.
I would be more than happy to look at the Labour Green Paper, because I do not think there is any monopoly on good ideas in this area, as I hope that my opposite number will look with an open mind at the plan that we publish and the work we intend to do. We all have a shared desire here to see better outcomes and more justice for victims in court, and we will have to stand shoulder to shoulder if we are going to make that happen.
Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
The devastating impact on victims from rape, sexual exploitation, sexual violence and grooming is shattering and long-lasting, and every victim must feel able to come forward with confidence that their complaint will be fully investigated and, where evidence supports, that charges and prosecutions will follow. However, not all victims have confidence in the criminal justice system, so can my hon. Friend outline what steps the Government are taking to support those victims and provide reassurance that any complaint will be taken seriously?
My hon. Friend is right that we have to make sure in all we do that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system, and he will have seen in the recent Queen’s Speech that we have made a commitment to bring in a new victims law. It will put the victims code, which has 12 strong rights for victims in the criminal justice system, into law and ensure that all the operational partners—the police, the CPS and the courts, which are all rightly independent of Government—see the need to take up the challenge of putting victims at the heart of the system.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) [V]
The statistics are frankly lamentable, and behind each one is a victim. There were 52,210 rapes recorded by police in England and Wales in 2020. Only 843 resulted in a charge or a summons—a rate of 1.6%. For every 10 cases the CPS prosecuted in 2016-17, it now pursues only three. We know what failure looks like: it is this. What should the figures look like to be acceptable to the Minister? How long does he think we should have to wait to get to that point?
The hon. Member is quite right. As I have said, the numbers are deeply, deeply regrettable, and he is correct that not enough victims are getting justice in court. There have obviously been significant changes in technology, not least the advent of the mobile phone and the critical part it plays in so many of these investigations. We need to get ourselves in shape, both in terms of capacity and capability, and we need the right framework around inquiry and disclosure for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. That work is ongoing. We have ambitions, obviously, to raise the number very significantly, but I would not underestimate the operational challenge in embedding this across 43 police forces. The hon. Gentleman will know that creating the structural change alongside the cultural change in two operationally independent organisations, as well as in the court system, will take time and a foundational approach to change, which we are committed to and on which the work has started already.
Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con)
What is being done to improve the collaboration between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that more cases are actually charged?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as usual, puts her finger on the key issue—the relationship between the police and the CPS, in their collaboration to get a case to court, is absolutely critical. I hope she saw that, in January, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service launched their joint national action plan, with five themed areas of work that are designed to do exactly that. Those are on support for victims; casework quality and progression; digital capability and disclosure, including looking at mobile phones, as I mentioned earlier; people and expertise—critically, building knowledge and expertise—and engaging properly with stakeholders. I know that Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew, with whom I have met many times, and Baljit Ubhey and Sue Hemming from the CPS are leading the charge on this. They form part of the criminal justice support taskforce, which I lead, to try to drive the kind of results that we want to see.
Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) [V]
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd. The shocking drop in rape convictions demonstrates the need for urgent, radical, systemic change. Welsh Women’s Aid has stressed to me the importance of accurate, disaggregated data for Wales in its monitoring of the current duty to prevent crime and protect victims under the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. Will the Minister commit to a regular publication of Wales-specific data relating to cases of rape, and will he acknowledge that prosecution support services will work effectively for rape survivors only when justice powers are devolved to Wales, as they are to Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Data and transparency is one of the key themes that we have been looking at as part of the rape review. There will be an announcement, when the plan comes, about what we intend to do in terms of reporting. I am afraid that I do not support her call for more devolution. I think that England and Wales are stronger together on this issue, as on so many others.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
The vast majority of rape victims know the perpetrator in the first place, and the vast majority are in relationships with them, or historically have been. The key here is ensuring that once a victim of rape reports it to the police, they are dealt with not only sympathetically, but supported all the way along the line to court. This is a structural and cultural change that needs to take place. What effort is my hon. Friend making to ensure that cultural change, as well as structural change, is actually implemented?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the key issues that we have to address is what they call “victim attrition”, which is a slightly depersonalised, desensitised phrase for victims not feeling that they are going to get justice and giving up along the way. I was very pleased that the Government announced a massive increase in the amount of money being given to create the posts of independent sexual violence advisers and domestic abuse advisers, who will help to support victims through the criminal justice system to make sure that they get to court in good shape and able to give the evidence that they wish to give. There will be more about this issue in the review and I hope that, when it comes, he will welcome it.
Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
Despite the reasoning, the long delay in publishing the Government’s review of rape cases is emblematic of the chronic delays throughout the criminal justice system that are denying survivors justice and allowing rapists to walk free. The results of the analysis initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) are shocking. As a former sexual offences trained police officer, I think that what these statistics make clear is that police and prosecutors need more resources and training to bring perpetrators to justice, whether that means supporting survivors, handling investigations sensitively, analysing digital evidence or countering damaging stereotypes. The Minister talked in his response about this being part of ongoing work, so what are the Government doing now to deliver?
I agree with the hon. Lady about resources and training. The development of expertise, which she obviously had in her career, is a key part of the Crown Prosecution Service and National Police Chiefs’ Council joint national action plan. We see better results from specialist teams, and often those structural issues that allow police officers to stay in post for longer, and develop an expertise in what my hon. Friend will know is a difficult and sensitive area of investigation, are critical. We must also ensure that the CPS is able to develop that specialism, and that will be a critical part of the joint national action plan.
Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
In South Yorkshire just 24 people were charged, despite nearly 1,600 reports of rape being made in 2019. The Minister says that the Government have taken action, but their recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill does not mention women once. Will he admit that through their lack of action, this Government have effectively decriminalised rape?
I am sorry to hear the numbers from South Yorkshire, and I know the hon. Lady will address them with the police and crime commissioner there, who is responsible for the performance of the police. He also chairs the local criminal justice board, which is designed to bring partners together in that area to work on exactly these issues. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes provisions that will focus on offences that largely impact women, not least the end of the halfway release for serious sexual offenders, including rapists who, when the Bill goes through, will have to serve two-thirds of their sentence, providing greater protection and justice for their victims.
Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con) [V]
Because the majority of rapes take place behind closed doors, where the victim knows the perpetrator, and in circumstances that are incredibly difficult to prove afterwards, it has always been a difficult crime for which to get a conviction. The most striking features of the current rate are the high rate of attrition, and the fact that the CPS has seen fit to update the rape and serious sexual offences guidance all the way through the year on victim behaviour. Does my hon. Friend think there is a case for specialised prosecutors, and a specialist sexual offences court to deal with such crimes?
I had the pleasure of watching a talk that my hon. Friend gave last night to a think-tank about these issues, and she was very thoughtful and interesting on this subject. Across all crime types we see that specialism pays, both in apprehending the perpetrator, but also in getting a conviction. We must ensure that the police and CPS can develop those specialisms. All prosecutions are currently charged by specialist RASSO prosecutors, but a collective expertise must be a key mission for us. Alongside that, we must ensure that victims have specialist support, and expertise is key to that.
My hon. Friend is right to say that this is a particularly difficult, evidential situation, where often it is one word against another, and other circumstantial evidence may or may not lead to a conviction. I want to concentrate on the key area of recent reporting, and on encouraging people to report as soon as possible. As she will know, there is a short forensic window in such situations—normally 7 to 10 days—and there are sensitive forensic facilities where evidence can be gathered. We know that in such circumstances, the likelihood of conviction is much greater. For historical offenders it is even more difficult, which is why expertise is even more important.
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
The Government know that rape prosecution and conviction rates have always been too low,
but they have plummeted over the last four years, dropping by 60% to 70%. Ministers were warned several years ago about the impact of cuts to specialist rape prosecutors and to specialist sexual violence teams in the police. Has the Minister done an assessment of what the reduction in some of those specialist policing teams has been, what the impact has been, and what additional capacity is now needed in those specialist teams, in both the CPS and the police, to turn this awful situation around?
I thank the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee for her question, but it would be a mistake to point to one particular issue driving the drop. We know, for example, that the significant fall from 2016-17 was down to difficulties with disclosure that arose from particular cases, and the impact that that has had on both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I think it is sometimes a mistake to give the impression that somehow a decision was made that this should happen. It was not. There has been a pattern of decline over a number of years. Part of the reason that we instituted the rape review, admittedly 24 months ago, was to try to diagnose exactly what has gone wrong—exactly why these cases are failing to get to court, why so many witnesses are falling out before they get to court, why we are seeing difficulties with disclosure, and what we can do to improve, for example, our operation of digital forensics, in terms of both capacity and capability. All that will be contained in the review. I understand people’s impatience; there is not much longer to wait now.
David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con) [V]
I commend the Government for the work that has already been put in hand to improve support for rape complainants. Will my hon. Friend give an update on when the new 2017 guidance on achieving best evidence—ABE—will be published and set out how the use of recorded pre-trial evidence and the specialist input of the Criminal Bar Association are informing the Government’s next steps?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s constructive question. He is right; we do think that the use of section 28, as it is called—giving recorded evidence—will have a role to play. As he will know, we have rolled it out for vulnerable victims across all Crown courts, and we now have a number of pathfinder courts—in Liverpool and, I think, Leeds—where we are using it in cases of intimidated witnesses, not least in cases of rape and sexual violence. As for the guidance that he points towards, that is a police-owned document, and I know that they are collaborating closely with the CPS and the Criminal Bar Association to get it right. We stand ready to help them with publication once their work is finished.
Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab) [V]
I have heard harrowing testimony from a number of my constituents about their experience of seeking justice after rape and sexual violence. The majority felt that they had been further traumatised by the process and felt like they were the ones on trial, whether because they were required to hand over their digital devices, because they were not able to access pre-trial therapy, or because of the myths and stereotypes that abound.
Listening to that testimony, I felt vindicated in my own decision not to go to the police—a decision that thousands of women sadly take because they understandably feel like their trauma will only be compounded by the process, with a minuscule likelihood of securing a conviction. Will the Minister therefore please commit to supporting Labour’s call for the establishment of a pre and post-trial survivor support package, including a full legal advocacy scheme for victims and better training for professionals around myths and stereotypes, so that survivors can finally have some confidence in this process?
It is obviously a matter of deep regret that anybody feels prevented from coming forward to report a rape, or indeed a sexual assault, to the police. That is one of the issues that we need to address—building confidence among victims that they should and could step forward, recognising at all times that it takes enormous courage to do so. Like the hon. Lady, I have sat with victims of this particularly appalling and intimate crime over the years, so I recognise the devastating impact that it can have. As to the measures that she calls for, I obviously cannot make an announcement today, but I recommend that, when the review is published, she reads it from cover to cover.
Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
Being believed is one of the most important things for a rape victim’s confidence. Being able to come forward and report the rape in the first instance is not easy, especially when sexual abuse survivors really fear that if they were to report the crime no one would believe them, when victims know that society can blame them for the aggression or, as is often the case, when the rape victim was known by the perpetrator. I therefore thank my hon. Friend for his assurance today that the voices of victims are at the heart of the review, but will he assure me that rape victims going forward will have confidence in the criminal justice system’s handling of rape complaints?
While my primary objective will be to get more cases into court—that, fundamentally, is the problem we are trying to address—my hon. Friend is quite right that, alongside that, it is completely critical that we build confidence among victims in the criminal justice system. We have seen an increase in reported rape over the last few years, and it is quite a significant increase, so more people are confident to come forward. However, given the performance figures so far, that could easily slip away, so making sure they are at the heart of decision making—that they know when they come forward that they can access the support they need, and can get the guidance and indeed the advocacy they need; that they will be received by police officers and prosecutors who are invested properly in and are looking dispassionately at the investigation; and that the natural inquiries required as part of this sort of offence investigation are proportionate and do not invade privacy in a disproportionate way—will be critical to the mission, and I hope that that is what she will find in the report.
Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
The Minister has rightly highlighted the importance of data and transparency in the rape review. With some police forces reporting a rapid rise in sexual offending by women, what steps is he taking to ensure that all police forces accurately record and collect data on the sex of both the victims and the perpetrators in all cases of rape and sexual violence? Does he agree with me that, when it comes to recording crime, sex does matter?
I agree with the hon. Lady that demographics of all types matter. Indeed, I forget who it was, but someone said, “If you can’t measure something, you don’t know how to change it”. One of the first questions I have asked in my initial meetings in this job, when officials come in with a particular area of policy to deal with, is: do we actually know what is happening—do we have a clear picture of what is happening out there on the streets and communities we serve? I am more than happy to go back and have a look at the particular issue she has raised to make sure that we are getting the recording right.
Claire Coutinho (East Surrey) (Con) [V]
I welcome the Government’s support for independent sexual violence advisers, who we know have a profound effect in helping victims to get through the court process. However, we know that there is an issue in convictions versus acquittals in the court process as well. Could my hon. Friend please assure me that this will be thoroughly investigated in the rape review, but also that we will be looking at how we communicate the changes on a national level, so that people who might not otherwise be engaged in the political stories of the day will learn about these changes and have confidence in the system going forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to create a self-reinforcing story of success, where the support we give to victims and the changes in our methodology and indeed practices between the police and the CPS lead to a greater number of cases going into court, and that in turn leads to a greater number of convictions, which should build confidence among victims. I hope that is exactly the kind of spiral of success that the report will produce.
Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab) [V]
Seven in 10 women say the Government’s efforts to make the UK safer for women are lacking. Does the Minister back Labour’s Bill to end violence against women and girls, and if not, does he believe seven in 10 women are wrong?
Obviously, one of the key themes that we wanted to address as a Government is a general sense of safety in the public realm. That is why we are recruiting 20,000 more police officers and working day and night to drive performance on all crime types to create a greater sense of safety and security on our streets for men and women.
I do not accept necessarily, however, that we need a Bill as the hon. Lady has outlined, not least because we have managed to do a fair amount—a huge amount, actually—on violence against women and girls over the past few years through other means, as I set out earlier. We have new offences of coercive control, upskirting and stalking, and on revenge porn. The rough sex defence has been dealt with, and we have introduced modern slavery offences, when women are often trafficked for sex. We have even campaigned on rape being used as a weapon of war around the world. Alongside that are the report we have made on refuges, the domestic abuse helplines and work that we are doing now on the rape review.
That huge package points towards the safety of women and girls. While there is much to be proud of in that, there is still a lot more to do, which is why later this year we will publish a violence against women and girls strategy alongside a complementary domestic abuse strategy.
Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
The justice system is in meltdown and the victims of all crime are having their justice delayed and subsequently denied, but survivors of rape and sexual violence are also being denied vital psychological therapy and counselling, since to seek such lifesaving support can be deemed to interfere with the validity of their evidence. Will the Minister adopt Labour’s survivors’ support package as a first and immediate step to ensure that survivors may have their evidence pre-recorded and their cross-examination pre-trial, so that they may access the very help that they need?
The pandemic has been extremely challenging for the court system over the past year or so, but we all have a duty not to be hyperbolic in our language—it is not in meltdown. Justice is still being dispensed in the courts, and while delay built up naturally during the pandemic, an enormous amount of work has been done to deal with it, with the opening of Nightingale courts and a massive expansion of capacity. We are seeing progress, so I hope that the hon. Lady will focus on the work that needs to be done to recover from the pandemic. We will see more positive outcomes in the months to come.
Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
The military conviction rate is far lower than that in the civil system. Service personnel and veterans’ representatives are all calling for military rape to be heard in civilian courts. Will my right hon. Friend agree to discuss with his Ministry of Defence counterpart that all victims, regardless of where the assault took place, should receive the justice that they deserve?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the low figures in military courts as well, and I will of course discuss that with the Secretary of State for Defence or my ministerial counterpart. I know that my hon. Friend is authoring, or leading on, a report on women in the armed forces at the moment. I shall look forward to reading that as well and drawing some conclusions from it for my work.
Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
Violence against women and girls starts really young. I do not know whether the Minister saw the news today about the research done by Radio 4 and the NASUWT into sexual violence and harassment in schools, but a third of teachers had witnessed peer-on-peer sexual harassment or abuse and one in 10 see this happening on a weekly basis.
The problem we have with violence against women and girls in this country starts young and it never ends. We have a real problem, so as well as no more delays to the publication of the end-to-end rape review, will the Minister commit to talking seriously to his colleagues in the Department for Education about addressing the need for education on consent for boys and girls in schools and through youth work?
The hon. Lady makes an important point which, as I am sure she appreciates, is not within my ministerial ambit to comment on. However, through the work of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the online harms Bill and of the Department for Education, we are all very much aware that young people take their signals and learn their behaviour from the adults around them. We all have a duty to ensure that they grow up as right-thinking members of society.
Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
It is a fact that victims of rape and sexual assault are deterred from reporting these crimes. The combination of very low conviction rates, reporting requirements and a societal view of victim blaming combine to contribute against these feelings of deterrence. What can the Government do to ensure that the voices of victims are right at the heart of the review?
I hope that, given his obvious conviction and commitment to this issue, my hon. Friend will volunteer to be on the Committee that considers the victims’ Bill when it enters the House. It will be a critical part of the architecture of ensuring that we build confidence in the system among victims, and I look forward to its passage through the House.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
The Minister says that justice is being dispensed in our courts. Well, in April this year a convicted rapist who named and blamed his victim on Facebook got a paltry £120 fine. We rightly give victims of rape anonymity for life. What message does he think it sends to victims when this important protection is being abused and the penalty for it is less than someone would get for fly-tipping? And if he agrees that it is not acceptable, what is he doing about it?
As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, victims of these kinds of offences do have a right to lifetime anonymity. Although I have to admit that that penalty standing alone does seem derisory, the hon. Lady will know that the particular individual—I think we are talking about the same case—received a very significant sentence for the substantive offence. This is an issue that we will be keeping under review, but for the purposes of the rape review my job is to get more cases into court, and that is what I will be focusing on.
Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
One of the issues in securing convictions is proving lack of consent. As my hon. Friend has said, it is often one person’s word against the other person’s. Would he consider working with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to establish guidelines as to how to prove consent or lack thereof?
My hon. Friend raises a critical issue, which, as she says, is at the heart of so many of these investigations. I know that, as part of their joint action plan, the police and the CPS will be looking at exactly such issues to ensure that there is consistency and, frankly, that they can get the right kind of result in court.
Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V]
Can the Minister tell the House whether the rape review looks at the shockingly low figures for convictions of men who rape women and girls who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation; and will this be addressed in any action plan, including the need for new legislation to protect women and girls, and to hold men accountable for their actions?
As the right hon. Lady will know, thanks to this Government there are now significant penalties under the modern slavery legislation for those who traffic individuals. However, I hope she will forgive me if I do not necessarily reveal what is in the review. I hope that she will see that, whatever the circumstances of that particular offence, once the work starts—the work has started, but once we get going on the work that sits behind the rape review—we will see perpetrators of all kinds of these offences in court, where justice can be dispensed.
David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
Last month, a constituent of mine sent me a very powerful account of how her case has taken nearly three years to reach court. During that time, she has been told not to have therapy; that she could have therapy as long as the notes were shared with the defence; that she should not claim compensation; that she should not speak about it; and, at one point, that she would not be able to watch the trial. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the review will look both at how we can get cases to court more quickly, but at how victims can feel more supported, rather than feeling as my constituent has felt—inadvertently silenced?
I am very distressed to hear the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent; it sounds like a dreadful case. On the therapy issue, the guidelines in place say that pre-trial therapy is absolutely allowed and appropriate, and nobody should be steered away from it. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that particular case, because it sounds like one from which we can learn some lessons.
Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, has stated that the Government’s rape review team
“took the surprising decision not to seek the views of those who really matter—rape survivors.”
Will the Minister confirm today that the upcoming end-to-end review did consult survivors of rape and sexual violence? If it did not, how can he assure the House that the review is in fact end-to-end without its speaking to those directly impacted?
Of course we consulted survivors, and a number of organisations that represent survivors were represented on the engagement panel as part of the development of the review. Indeed, more than that, the Government appointed Emily Hunt, a high-profile campaigner on this issue and herself a survivor, as an expert adviser.
Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con) [V]
There is a benefit to being last to ask a question: one gets to see the whole debate. Throughout these exchanges there has been one common theme, which is trust. Only this month I have written to the Minister about harassment cases, but at its worst it is rape cases. People need to believe that when they come forward they will be trusted, that the police can be trusted to do their jobs, that they can trust sentences to be punishment and, finally, that we in this House are implementing the right laws. I am not asking the Minister to comment specifically on whether this review will deliver that, but overall does he think that it will bring trust into the system so that more convictions will go forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that trust in the police, the prosecution service and the courts is critical to building the confidence and legitimacy on which our law-enforcement system rests. Having been involved in the development of the plan, I hope and believe that it will do two things: first, address that particular issue in what is a complex environment; and secondly, bring justice for individual victims, absent the general confidence that we should all try to instil in the system.