Rape victims will be able to give evidence on video under new plans

Rape victims will be able to give evidence on video and be spared from facing accused in court under government plans to improve conviction rates by reducing stress on survivors

  • Review by ministers will look at allowing victims to give evidence out of court
  • Currently victims are asked to give evidence in front of a jury and legal counsel
  • They can have screens which allow them not to be seen by the accused in court
  • Ministers hope to reduce stress by allowing victims to give evidence out of court
  • It is part of a plan to improve conviction rates which have dipped in recent years

Rape victims will be able to give evidence on video as part of a plan to improve conviction rates.

Ministers are said to be reviewing a proposal to allow victim’s accounts to be recorded prior to trial.

This will mean victims will not have to face the accused in court if they do not want to. 

Currently victims are asked to give their evidence live in court – including being cross-examined by the defendant’s barrister in front of jury members.

They can chose to have a screen that blocks them from the view of the defendant, though they can still be seen by jury members and legal counsel. 

It is hoped taking rape victims out of the court will reduce the stress of victims and encourage more to take their case to trial. 

Rape victims will be able to give evidence on video as part of a plan to improve conviction rates. Library image

Rape prosecutions fell by more than a 1,000 last year, despite a rise in the number of allegations made to police.  

The plans form part of a review, led by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Home Secretary Priti Patel, aiming to reduce stress on victims.

The Government review to be unveiled next month is considering a plan for victims to pre-record their evidence, including cross-examination.

The plans will also call on judges to bar the public from the courtroom more often and ensure police return mobile phones to victims within 24 hours.

In September 2019, the the annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed there were just 1,925 convictions for rape or an alternative lesser offence during the financial year 2018-19.

This is down from 2,635 in the previous 12 months – a drop of 26.9 per cent.

The figure dropped another 25 per cent in summer 2020 when the CPS revealed 1,439 alleged rapists were convicted of rape or lesser offences in 2019/20.

The number of completed prosecutions also reached a record low, with 2,102 in 2019/20, compared to 3,034 in 2018/19, a fall of around 31 per cent.

Critics including the End Violence Against Women Coalition (Evaw) have accused the CPS of moving away from a ‘merits-based approach’ to deciding which cases of alleged rape and other serious sexual assault should be prosecuted.

But the Court of Appeal ruled in March the CPS had not changed its policy on prosecuting alleged rapes.

The Evaw called the decision ‘another establishment betrayal of victims of violence against women and girls’.

Next month’s Government review will be published after MPs heard prosecutors dealing with rapes and serious sexual offences have 80 per cent more cases than they did before the coronavirus pandemic.

CPS lawyers are now handling on average around 27 such cases – as opposed to 15 prior to the outbreak, the Commons Justice Committee was told in March.

What is the merits based approach to prosecution? 

The merits based approach encourages prosecutors to move away from the standard prosecution process, when dealing with serious sexual offences.

The traditional test focuses on the likelihood of achieving a prosecution and whether or not there is a 50 per cent chance of conviction.

This test is often measured against the success or failure of previous similar cases.

But under the merits based approach, introduced by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in his time as Director of Public Prosecutions, prosecutors are instead asked to judge a case on its merits rather than the chance of success. 

This included ‘putting aside myths and stereotypes’ about rape cases and rape victims, EVAW’s lawyer Phillippa Kaufmann QC told the Court of Appeal earlier this year.

She said it was ‘drummed into prosecutors over six years’ to use the MBA to ‘ensure an evidential based approach was applied’.

Ms Kaufmann said that from September 2016, it was decided to take a ‘fundamentally different course’, and ‘do away’ with the merits based approach, which created a risk that prosecutors ended up not prosecuting cases that did meet legal tests to do so.

However the CPS has argued that its approach has not substantially changed and lawyers for the CPS have pargued the case was not suitable for legal challenge and asked the Court of Appeal to dismiss the claim. 

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