Rape cases are taking nearly three years to come to court and reach a verdict, official figures reveal.
Ministry of Justice data show the mean time between a rape offence being committed and its completion with a verdict in court was 1,081 days in the final quarter of 2019, the date for the most recent figures.
The bulk of that time, some 775 days, or more than two years, was taken up with police investigation of the offence before prosecutors decided to charge the suspect.
The disclosure is further evidence of the criminal justice system failing rape victims, for which ministers including Priti Patel and Robert Buckland apologised when they published their blueprint for reversing plummeting prosecution rates.
Their rape review admitted that “delays in investigative processes” were among the reasons for the decline in cases reaching court as more than half of victims withdrew their complaints in frustration or distress over the criminal justice system.
It also has implications for suspects such as Lady Nourse, whose case took more than three years to come to court after a man accused her of abusing him as a child.
Victims’ lives ‘put on hold’
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, said the delays were “unacceptable.”
“They prevent victims processing their trauma, with their lives put on hold as a result,” she added.
“Faced with such a long wait, it seems inevitable that some victims will simply decide to opt-out of the criminal justice process altogether, leaving them with no resolution and the public with the risk of a guilty criminal free to offend again.
“While the government has expressed sorrow and shame for the state of rape prosecutions in its end-to-end rape review, precious little was mentioned about endemic delays in the court system.
“The Government does say that it needs to ensure that trials are ‘timely’ – but there is no indication of what this means.”
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She said the Government needed to go further with “truly transformative” policies such as immediately rolling out nationally pre-recorded video evidence rather than only piloting it.
Under the pilots, victims will be able to pre-record their evidence, including cross-examination by lawyers, which would then be played during a trial sparing them the trauma of appearing in court and allowing them to get on with their lives at an earlier stage.
‘No closure’ gained
James Mulholland, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “A three-year wait on average for a rape case to complete, meaning many cases have even longer waiting times, leaves psychological scarring for all involved, as no one is able to gain closure until the proceedings are concluded.
“Not only do rape complainants walk away, those that do remain, the delays cause problems with memory and therefore the whole delay scenario impacts upon the Crown Court structure in terms of the reliability and credibility of witnesses.”
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Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis, said: “If we want to improve the number of successful rape prosecutions coming before the courts then we have to address these delays as a matter of urgency. If government is serious about its apology then it has to put its money where its mouth is and invest in the system.”
The rape review aims to ensure police and prosecutors work more closely from the start of investigations to reduce delays. There are also plans to expand technology to analyse phones at the start of an investigation including “cyber vans” that can provide immediate analysis of data.
The Ministry of Justice has also invested £250 million to cut delays and clear backlogs of cases that built up during the pandemic. There is, however, a national shortage of detectives which is now being addressed as part of the 20,000 police officer uplift.