Do we need a right to review in rape cases?

Photo from the Guardian

Photo from the Guardian

Introduction

If you didn’t know that there was a General Election on, all you need to do is stick you nose in the air and you’ll detect the sweet smell of politicians unveiling new policies, more in the hope of a headline rather than in order to solve a problem. On 12th April 2015, Labour gave us what could be another example –

The headline in the Guardian is “Labour plans to give complainants right to review in rape cases“. Reading it, the pledge is as follows – “If police identify a suspect but decide not to pass a file to the Crown Prosecution Service, victims would be able to ask for the case to be looked at again“. This is said to be justified on the basis that “police received 16,300 complaints of rape in 2012/13, and passed 5,400 to the CPS“.

 

Don’t we have this already?

Not quite. We do already have a right to request a review of a prosecution decision in many cases. This includes the power to seek a review of a ‘decision not to charge’ a suspect. It does not include “where the police exercise their independent discretion not to investigate or not to investigate a case further (whether in consultation with the CPS or not) and the CPS have not been requested to make a formal decision to charge“, which is the gap that Labour says needs closing.

 

What’s wrong with this?

Well, nothing as far as it goes. Some people are fans of giving complainants even more rights than that have at the moment, some think the pendulum has already swung too far in that direction (or that it is an easy way of ignoring the bigger issue). This post isn’t the time to debate it, but it’s clear where the direction of travel is.

As for the policy, there are two problems here. Firstly, there is a power to request a review from the police force, with the power to take legal action against them if they refuse to, or undertake the review in a flawed matter. This may not be ideal, but it is not correct to say (or imply) that this cannot happen.

Whether this new policy is needed or not may depend on the figures. The Police not passing on 10,900 cases out of 16,300 to the CPS sounds like a big deal that needs addressing? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, you need to dig a little deeper.

If it is the fact that the police take two out of three cases where a suspect is identified, and has been interviewed, and the case investigated, and nothing done with it, then this would indicate a huge problem. The actual problem though is that I don’t believe that that is the case. It may well be that there are 10,900 that aren’t proceeded with, and I’m willing to accept that some of those perhaps should be, but I don’t think that the actual figures are anywhere near as bad as the news story implies.

The 10,900 will include all the cases where the name of the suspect is not known, where they have died, or where they are known but can’t be found. And I would imagine that those categories form the overwhelming majority of the cases that aren’t passed to the CPS. I don’t know, and the data isn’t easy to find, so I can’t be sure, but that is a far more likely explanation that the police just ignore 2/3 of cases.

 

Conclusion

This post isn’t about whether a Right to Review is a good idea, it’s about how politicians form policy proposals and the evidence used to back it up. I’m not sure the evidence suggests that a review is needed, but it seems to me that this should have been included in the CPS scheme in the first place, so this is not a particularly contentious policy. I can’t see that it will cost much money in the scheme of things, but it may be that the money would be better spent in extra police officers, or training for existing officers of course. But the figures used don’t justify the headline. Until we know how big an issue this then it’s perhaps best to file this as a promise made to get votes rather than to fill a need.

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