Demands for rape victims' mobile phone data hampering investigations
Prosecutors closing a record number of cases before charging decisions amid row over disclosure of evidence. Rape prosecutions have plummeted by almost a quarter in a year as police admit vast quantities of mobile phone data are slowing down investigations and causing victims to drop out.
New figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) show a 23 per cent year-on-year drop in the number of rape suspects prosecuted in 2017-18, despite the number of rapes recorded by police increasing by 31 per cent across England and Wales in the same period.
It comes after a scandal over failures to disclose crucial evidence, including messages and mobile phone pictures, which caused a series of rape trials to collapse.
Lawyers are concerned that the ensuing outrage caused prosecutors to “scurry too far in the opposite direction” and demand phone records and details of victims’ histories and personal lives before proceeding with cases.
Under half of the cases referred to prosecutors by police (47 per cent) were taken forward in the year, down from 55 per cent the year before, and a record number of referrals were dismissed ahead of a formal charging decision.
More than a fifth of rape referrals were “administratively finalised” by the CPS, up from 12 per cent the year before, meaning they were closed without action against the suspects.
The move is taken when police ask for advice but do not submit a full file for a charging decision, or when prosecutors request more information or evidence but officers do not supply it by their deadline.
Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Martin Hewitt, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for rape, said the “increasing amount of digital material on a variety of devices that needs to be analysed” was having an impact.
“This includes obtaining material held by third parties [such as US-based social media companies] and the subsequent disclosure of what is considered relevant material,” he added. “This can take many months and in some cases impact on the participation of complainants.
“We continue to work closely with the CPS to identity and address the factors behind the drop in referrals.”
It now takes an average of 78 days to charge a suspected rapist after the victim reports, up from 63 in 2016-17, and then another 11 months for the case to conclude.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ leader for victims, said the statistics showed the CPS was “refusing to charge without more information” that could allow rape claims to be undermined in court.
“The CPS often requires access to tracts of intimate personal and confidential material about complainants and won’t charge unless it is supplied, even if the police are satisfied that it contains nothing relevant to defence or prosecution,” she added.
“There is no excuse for the CPS to arbitrarily decide not to pursue crimes which may have seriously injured people in order to get their conviction figures up … these figures are another wakeup call that we need to do more to protect the rights of victims of sexual offences through the judicial process.”
The CPS put the increase in “administratively finalised” cases down to an increase in investigative advice given to police before they submit a full file for a formal charging decision.
A spokesperson said: “Rape is one of the most complex crimes the CPS deals with and prosecutors are given ongoing training to suppohttps
://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rape-convictions-prosecutions-fall-cps-police-mobile-phone-disclosure-victims-a8556601.htmlrt decision making in challenging cases.