The police and prosecutors have pledged to work more collaboratively together from the outset of investigations into rape allegations to increase the number of cases reaching court.
An action plan has been established and is underway to improve the relationship between the two agencies to ensure a better working relationship from the start of a complaint to strengthen evidence and advise on lines of enquiry.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Rape, Temporary Chief Constable Sarah Crew, said: “We are committed to improving the police response to rape and get victims the justice they deserve. Together with the CPS we are implementing a joint action plan which aims to increase the number of cases being taken to court and the number of offenders being sent to prison."
The Crown Prosecution Service and National Police Chiefs’ Council have launched an additional collaborative commitment to build stronger rape prosecutions, increase the number of victims getting their say in court and minimise the time taken to reach a charging decision.
The move follows the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate report into the police and CPS response to rape which found there needs to be a fundamental change in how the two parties work together on these cases.
Police and CPS have signed up to the new approach which outlines how the CPS and investigators will work together more closely from the outset of rape and serious sexual assault cases through increased use of Early Advice.
The process of Early Advice means that police can consult a prosecutor on investigative strategy from the beginning of a case and talk through the evidence needed to build and strengthen it. It helps officers build strong cases by focusing the investigation on what is relevant and avoiding unnecessary enquiries into what is not.
This follows successful efforts in the South East to drive up its usage, which has resulted in a significant increase in rape referrals to the CPS since the initiative began in November last year.
Sue Hemming, CPS Director of Legal Services, said that rape is a devastating and life-changing crime.
Welcoming the inspection report which found that specialist prosecutors are committed to achieving justice for victims and are making legally correct decisions in the vast majority of cases, she said: “However, the CPS accepts far too few victims are currently seeing their cases reach court and we are working hard to turn this around, including addressing many of this report’s recommendations.
“We agree closer collaboration and communication with police from the outset of a rape complaint is essential to driving up the number of strong prosecutions and that a blame culture serves no one. Today’s agreement builds on our continued efforts to achieve better justice for victims.”
Sarah Crew added: “The new agreement between police and the CPS to work much closer in the very early days of an investigation will mean stronger cases from the get-go and should lead to a faster charging decision. This will, we hope, reduce the chance of a victim withdrawing their support.
“Changing the system and getting justice for more victims won’t happen overnight but it is something every police officer is committed to, and I am confident we are moving quickly in the right direction and already making vital improvements,” she said.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlines how increased use of Early Advice helps to build stronger cases, improve file quality and enhance understanding of what each party needs from an investigatory and legal perspective.
Early Advice can be particularly helpful in rape investigations, where discussions may include whether mobile phone downloads or social services records are required from a complainant and what the parameters should be, ensuring that only reasonable lines of enquiry are pursued. This helps to reduce the time taken to reach a charging decision and increase the number of cases that are prosecuted, as lines of enquiry and evidential requirements are considered from the outset.
The MoU also sets out how the police will introduce a robust quality assurance and supervision process to ensure all case material meets the CPS standard before being referred onwards.
Sue Hemming concluded: “Every case is different, which is why our prosecutors work closely with the police from the outset, offering early advice to build strong cases. This work is already beginning to make a difference, with more cases being referred to us and a higher proportion being charged. Through this MoU, we are driving this vital work even further, to make sure we see real and lasting change.”