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CPS response to The Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (CJJI) of how well the criminal justice system serves survivors of rape

|Publication, Sexual offences

The Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (CJJI) has today, Friday 25 February 2022, published a report on how well the criminal justice system serves survivors of rape. Today’s publication is the second part of a two-part inspection which considered what the barriers are to the progression of rape reports in the criminal justice system following charge.

Rape is a truly devastating and life changing crime. Victims of this most invasive abuse can suffer lasting trauma, and too often their experience of the criminal justice system adds to their suffering. We recognise that the approach to the investigation and prosecution of rape and our response, as well as that of the wider criminal justice system, must improve. We are committed to making significant year-on-year increases in the number of rape cases we bring to court so that more victims, irrespective of background and circumstances, see justice done. We know we cannot do this alone, and our work needs to support and complement that of our partners, particularly in policing.

We welcome the recognition by the Inspectorates of the joint commitment in the CPS and the police at national level to work together to tackle the issues highlighted in the report and are pleased that the inspectors found evidence of many dedicated and professional police officers and prosecutors committed to the investigation and prosecution of rape. Since the launch of our Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) 2025 strategy in 2020, and the Joint National Action Plan with the police, we have made significant improvements to how we handle rape cases and we will continue to do so, building on the recommendations in this report. While these steps are crucial to driving the change we all want to see, the full benefits of their implementation will necessarily be seen over time, supported by the encouraging collaborative work within Operation Soteria, where positive relationships between all agencies is beginning to deliver necessary change. We are encouraged by our data, which continues to show that referral, charge and prosecution volumes are increasing.

We have prioritised focus on three main areas of work: 

  • better collaboration with the police from the very start of an investigation, taking an offender-centric approach to case-building; 
  • supporting our prosecutors and expanding the size of our specialist units so that they are properly resourced to respond to these challenging and complex cases; and 
  • improving the support given to victims, and recognising the trauma they experience.

Our recently published Rape Strategy Update outlines what we have done, what comes next, and how it will make a difference.

As this report recognises, the quality of our communications with victims is often unacceptably poor. It is for this reason that we have started a three-phase programme of work to make improvements. We have commissioned crucial research into victims’ needs – the first of its kind for the CPS – to understand what victims need and want from us, so we can serve them better.  This research is part of our fundamental review in how we improve our engagement with victims. We will use the findings to inform our development of a new, improved model of communication between the CPS and victims, to ensure we are doing more to meet victims’ needs and to improve the support we provide to them at such a difficult time. We accept that there needs to be more clarity in the roles of those with responsibility for communicating with victims and we will work with our police partners to ensure that this new model compliments the role of the police and the WCUs, and delivers improved outcome for victims.

The CPS welcomes this report and its recommendations and will use its findings to further inform our response to rape prosecutions.

Recommendations for CPS:

Recommendation 1: Immediately, police and prosecutors should review and significantly improve communications with victims from the point of charge onwards.

This should include:

  • reviewing current processes, in consultation with commissioned and non-commissioned services and advocates, WCU, HMCTS and victims; and
  • implementing changes so that communication is clear and co-ordinated, with the victim’s wishes for how they are communicated with, recorded and followed wherever possible.

This should build on work to progress the parallel recommendation from the first phase of this inspection, which proposed improvements to communications with rape victims when a decision to take no further action had been made.

Recommendation 2: Immediately, and no later than September 2022, the CPS should unequivocally define the role of the prosecutor in communicating with victims, and the standards expected in doing so.

They should then make sure the role is clearly understood by prosecutors, others involved in RASSO cases, and victims themselves; and that prosecutors are meeting the required standards.

CPS response to recommendations 1 and 2:

We fully accept the substance of both recommendations but add that we have already established a vital programme of work to improve how we communicate with victims, and this will impact delivery timeframes to ensure we get this right.

We know that the way we communicate with victims and the way in which partners in the police, witness care units, and support services coordinate together needs to be improved. How we communicate with victims is not good enough and improving our communication is a key priority for us. It is for this reason that supporting victims was a core theme in our Joint National Action Plan produced in partnership with the police, which has already delivered improvements in our joint work with victims. It is also why we have commenced a significant three-phase programme of work to make improvements in how we in the CPS communicate with victims.

In the first phase we examined and completed actions we could take in the shorter term to improve our communication. This included new template letters which help to set clear standards for our communication. The new templates became available to prosecutors in December 2021. We also set up a new area leads network which provides a forum to identify and share local best practice and pilot new methods of victim communication.

In the second phase of the programme we carried out an extensive piece of research working with victims, their supporters, CPS staff and criminal justice partners – the first of its kind for the CPS – to understand what victims want and need from us to feel better supported, informed and engaged. The research considered the methods of communication, the timing of communications and how we can best communicate the reasons for our prosecution decisions to victims. The purpose of it is to provide a solid evidence base for an overhaul of our current victim communication and liaison scheme. We will shortly publish high-level findings from this research, but it is apparent from it that there is no one size fits all approach to good victim communications and it is important that, where possible, we give victims greater choice about how and when they receive updates about their case.

In phase 3 we will work with our partners to inform our design and implementation of a new, improved framework for victim communications. This work will be informed by the research produced during phase 2 and will ensure that the needs of victims are at the heart of our new model. 

In addition, we will shortly pilot new guidance on the use of ‘familiarisation meetings’ for RASSO victims to support victims when a not guilty plea is entered. These meetings provide the victim with the opportunity to meet the prosecution team, discuss special measures, raise any questions they may have about the process, and share any concerns they may have about giving evidence. They also provide an opportunity for the CPS to give information to the victim that may help reassure them and promote their increased engagement with the case and criminal justice process. We will also be piloting new methods and timings of communications with victims as part of our work under Operation Soteria to increase awareness of the criminal justice process, including victims’ rights under the Victims’ Code and introducing the prosecution team to the victim. We have also created a guide for victims to help them understand what to expect and what support is available to them.

Recommendation 7: By September 2022, the CPS should make sure regular clinical supervision is available to all prosecutors who deal with rape and serious sexual offence cases.

This will help to increase their resilience, wellbeing and effectiveness.

CPS response:

We accept this recommendation. Our RASSO unit staff are highly trained and given extensive guidance and wellbeing support. Without question, RASSO cases are among the most challenging cases to prosecute and it is for this reason that in 2021 we reviewed our wellbeing training offer to ensure it better reflected the needs of our people and their ongoing contact with traumatic material. Our new training adopts a more holistic approach to support and learning. It includes a tailored RASSO Wellbeing Toolkit, counselling, mental health allies, team support sessions and line-manager check-ins, alongside a Schwartz Round that supports the management of work-related trauma and stress in a safe space, where peers can speak freely about the emotional impact of their work through the sharing of experiences. A revised version of the RASSO Welfare Support Training offer was piloted between October and December 2021 and is now being re-designed by our new Employee Assistance Provider with design input from a psychotherapist. This offer is for all our RASSO staff – prosecutors, paralegal staff and managers.

Recommendation 8: Immediately, the police and the CPS should work collaboratively to ensure that bad character is considered in all rape cases, and progressed wherever it is applicable.

This will help to build strong cases which focus on the behaviours of the defendant.

Work to progress this recommendation should include:

  • all forces assuring themselves that officers involved in rape cases are aware of their responsibilities to research all available intelligence and information systems for information on suspects, and are doing so;
  • all prosecutors assuring themselves that bad character has been either provided or requested from the police in all rape cases; and
  • forces and prosecutors working together to assure themselves that opportunities for use of bad character have been properly exploited in every case, with recorded rationales for decisions in place.

CPS response:

We accept this recommendation. We recognise the important role that bad character evidence can play in all cases and our legal guidance on this topic provides prosecutors with direction on the specific area of law and procedural issues as well as case examples to assist their legal decision-making. As part of recent work to improve our response to rape, we are focusing on improving our collaboration with the police from the very start of an investigation and taking an offender-centric approach to case-building. An offender-centric approach means looking closely at the actions of the suspect before, during and after the alleged assault, so that their behaviour is the focus of the investigation and bad character evidence may play a key part here. We will carefully consider opportunities to reinforce the importance and value of this material so that in cases where bad character evidence is provided to us by the police, opportunities to use it as evidence are not missed.

Recommendation 6: Immediately, and no later than by September 2022, the MoJ should gather and publish quantitative and qualitative data on use of special measures in rape cases, including section 28.

This should:

  • provide assurance on how far and in what ways is improving the experience of rape victims;
  • enable monitoring of the effectiveness of section 28; and
  • form part of the national metrics (including the Rape Scorecard) used by Government and interested parties to assess the experiences of rape victims in the criminal justice system, and make improvements.

At a local level, through Local Criminal Justice Boards, the CPS, the police, victim support services and the courts should regularly review this data and the cases where they have been used to identify good ways of working, resolve problems, and increase practitioner knowledge. Victims should be invited to give information on their experiences of using special measures as part of this local review.

CPS response:

We accept our part in this recommendation. Giving evidence in court can be a daunting experience for anyone, none more so than a victim of rape or serious sexual offence and where appropriate, we support provisions that help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses give their best evidence in court and relieve some of the stress associated with giving evidence. Our Chief Crown Prosecutors (CCPs) actively engage with local Criminal Justice Boards (LCJBs) and we would welcome collective consideration of special measures data through this forum. We have engaged with the Victims’ Commissioners’ Office in their deep dive into special measures in 2021 and are involved in a multi-agency group to provide a national response to the recommendations which will assist our CCPs with their LCJBs discussions.

We are fully supportive of the rollout of section 28 and all our specialist lawyers have been trained and are prepared for the expected imminent national roll out of section 28 for intimidated RASSO victims. We have promoted and encouraged the increased use of remote evidence sites where victims can give their evidence over live link in a safe supportive location away from the court. We have also supported the pilot running section 28 recordings from three of these remote evidence sites.
Our Joint National Action Plan with the police includes a commitment to increase awareness of currently under-utilised special measures, such as clearing the public gallery, known as ‘Section 25’.  As part of this we have developed an information sheet on this provision, which has been shared internally with CPS prosecutors and externally with advocates and organisations who provide training to ISVAs.

Our guide for rape victims explains what special measures are available and how they may assist victims to give their best evidence. We have produced videos to accompany the guide and explain further about how we work and what will happen at court. We are in the process of updating our legal guidance to reflect the recent developments in section 28 and section 25.

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