HMICFRS: A joint thematic inspection of the police and Crown Prosecution Service’s response to rape – phase one
Phase one: From report to police or CPS decision to take no further action
Response from: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hampshire
This phase one inspection into the decisions made to take no further action in cases of rape reaffirms the narrative we hear time and time again that ‘the criminal justice system’s response to rape offences too often lacks focus, clarity and commitment….it fails to put victims at the heart of building strong cases.’ It is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising to hear that rape cases are often described as ‘really difficult’, this alongside attrition levels has been described by one victim as ‘resulting in ‘defeatism’ in the attitude of police and prosecutors towards these cases.’ The inspection report identifies that the police and prosecutors seem to lack the confidence in themselves and the system to achieve justice for those victims. I support the call for better training and a fundamental mind-set shift within the police and CPS from a presumption of failure to an expectation of justice. Rape is too important to be placed in the ‘too difficult box’.
There have been significant discussions with the CPS and the police on the need for them to improve the way investigations and prosecutions are managed within Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The inspection report identifies ‘some difficult relationships between the police and CPS, with both organisations on occasion arguing that the other was ‘to blame’ for the low conviction rates.’ I will ensure my scrutiny of this plays a central part of my role as Chair of the Local Criminal Justice Board, so that I can deliver a change for victims.
As joint APCC Victims Lead I also feed into the national agenda, this includes tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), working with agencies and victims groups right across the system at a local and national level. It is absolutely clear there needs to be a step change in focus and funding as women and girls deserve so much better from the services that should be there to protect and support them.
Victims need to have confidence and trust in the system from their first point of contact with the police, through the investigation, in the lead up to a court hearing and during that court process. The support offered throughout this journey and beyond is important and I will continue to invest in the best support services, such as the Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs, which are highlighted in the report). AS PCC I am responsible for commissioning support services which are tailored to individual victims’ needs, whether they choose to report to the police or not. If a victim does take that first brave step to report, they need access to quality, wrap-around care from that very first point of contact.
Locally work is already focussed on improving outcomes for victims of rape and the CPS are a central part of this improvement work, I will ensure a change for victims so they get the justice they deserve.
Police and Crime Commissioner
Immediately, police forces should ensure information on the protected characteristics of rape victims is accurately and consistently recorded.
As PCC I will ensure that this is addressed with Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney to press the importance of accurate and detailed reporting for all victims of rape and serious sexual assaults.
Police forces and support services should work together at a local level to better understand each other’s roles. A co-ordinated approach will help make sure that all available and bespoke wrap-around support is offered to the victim throughout every stage of the case. The input of victims and their experiences should play a central role in shaping the support offered.
I already commission a number of local support services across Hampshire and IOW, I will work with the Chief Constable to ensure the better understanding of roles across the force and local support services.
Police forces should collect data to record the different stages when, and reasons why, a victim may withdraw support for a case. The Home Office should review the available outcome codes so that the data gathered can help target necessary remedial action and improve victim care.
I know there has been extensive work in this area here in Hampshire, however, this clearly needs further dedicated resource to ensure the right data is being collated to review why victims may withdraw support for a case. I will work with the force to ensure this is addressed in detail.
Immediately, police forces and CPS Areas should work together at a local level to prioritise action to improve the effectiveness of case strategies and action plans, with rigorous target and review dates and a clear escalation and performance management process. The NPCC lead for adult sexual offences and the CPS lead should provide a national framework to help embed this activity.
As chair of my Local Criminal Justice Board I’m in a prime position to challenge both the force and CPS in my region to prioritise action to improve the effectiveness of case strategies and action plans, with rigorous target and review dates and a clear escalation and performance management process.
Police forces and the CPS should work together at a local level to introduce appropriate ways to build a cohesive and seamless approach. This should improve relationships, communication and understanding of the roles of each organisation.
As a minimum, the following should be included:
- considering early investigative advice in every case and recording reasons for not seeking it;
- the investigator and the reviewing prosecutor including their direct telephone and email contact details in all written communication;
- in cases referred to the CPS, a face-to-face meeting (virtual or in person) between the investigator and prosecutor before deciding to take no further action; and
- a clear escalation pathway available to both the police and the CPS in cases where the parties don’t agree with decisions, subject to regular reviews to check effectiveness, and local results.
Again, in my role as Chair of the Local Criminal Justice Board here in Hampshire I will challenge both the force and the CPS to build in the mechanisms needed to ensure victims come first, not the culture of shifting blame across organisations for any failures and challenges.
The police and the CPS, in consultation with commissioned and non-commissioned services and advocates, and victims, should review the current process for communicating to victims the fact that a decision to take no further action has been made. They should implement any changes needed so that these difficult messages are conveyed in a timely way that best suits the victims’ needs.
I believe this is central to ensuring all victims get the access they need to support services at different stages of the investigation process. As PCC I will be challenging the force to review the current processes for communicating that no further action will be taken, and implement relevant changes to ensure victims remain at the heart of all investigations.
Police forces should ensure investigators understand that victims are entitled to have police decisions not to charge reviewed under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme and should periodically review levels of take-up.
I will put this to the Chief Constable and seek reassurances that this is all in order and regular reviews are taken.