Dame Vera Baird (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

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The government has been accused of “kicking the can down the road” over its appalling rape conviction record.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, described a long awaited government Rape Review published last week as "underwhelming".

Rape convictions have dropped to a record low in recent years, with only 1.6 per cent of reported cases ending in a charge, latest figures show.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has apologised to victims for the fall and promised to “do a lot better”.

Dame Vera, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday: "There is a very large amount of kicking the can down the road, having more pilots, and causing delay, in there.

"Nonetheless, this is a watershed.

"As long as the strength of that (Government) apology … survives, and is publicly scrutinised, I hope that we can really bring a change and push from the outside to improve some of the weaker recommendations in the Rape Review and drive the Government further."

Campaigners and survivors said the ambition to return to 2016 figures, published last week in the review, were welcome – but should not be considered the end target.

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The latest Crown Prosecution Service figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began.

It is down down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.

There were 4,643 rape prosecutions in 2015-16.

Emily Hunt, a survivor who advised on the Government's review, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee: "None of this has been good enough, none of us thought 2016 numbers were good enough then.

"The idea that we are where we are now is something that none of us could have imagined then."

She said the "suspect-focused" model – a key tenet of the review, to move scrutiny away from the complainant – "completely transforms the way we deal with rape in this country".

Ms Hunt added: "This is not the time for a pat on the back or a victory lap. None of this has been good enough."

Around 13% of reported rape cases in 2015-16 ended in a suspect being charged, but this dropped to just 3% in 2019-20.

There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge, according to latest figures.

Ms Hunt told the committee: "I think we need to do better and prosecute rapists – I'm also aware we can't just flip a switch, the culture needs to change in the police and the CPS."

Duncan Craig, from Survivors Manchester, an organisation supporting male survivors of sexual abuse and rape, said: "Reach for the moon, and if you miss, you fall in the stars.

"The reality is I think we have to get back to that (2016 levels).

"It's small steps. If we become too ambitious to begin with, I think we will fail.

"I want to see 2016 – get there, actually make it happen. At that point, we make it more ambitious."