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Staggering rise in prosecutions for sexual and domestic violence offences

There are a number of catchy headline statistics to be taken from the recently published Crown Prosecution Service “Violence Against Women and Girls Crime Report 2015-2016”. Prosecutions for the new offence of disseminating revenge porn now exceed 200 and there have been five successful prosecutions for the new offence of using controlling and coercive behaviour. There is a slight increase in the conviction rates for rape and child sexual abuse. There are some laudable objectives here which are being pursued with vigour and for which Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, should be rightly applauded.

The most staggering statistic, however, is the marked increase in the prosecution of sexual offences and offences of domestic violence as a percentage of the overall CPS caseload. It is an issue that is worth considering, not that it should detract from the progress being made in bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice, but rather as it is instructive to consider whether crimes are not being prosecuted because of what appears, at first blush, to be a change of emphasis and why.

Crimes of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) include for these purposes domestic violence, rape and sexual offences (obviously where the victims are women and girls). Prosecutions for these offences now amount to nearly 20% of the entire CPS case load. To put this into context this figure (as a proportion) has nearly doubled since 2012-13 when it amounted to 10.3%. Last year approximately 129,000 sexual and domestic violence cases were referred to the CPS and 86,000 defendants were charged (an increase in over 20,000 prosecutions as compared to three years ago). However, the conviction rate remained pretty much the same resulting, of course, in a greater number of convictions. Prosecutions for domestic abuse cases follow a similar pattern albeit that there is considerable overlap in the offences (and therefore cases) presented in two different sets of data. What these figures appear to show, however, is that the total amount of prosecutions for all offences has fallen dramatically from about 650,000 to about 450,000 (these are rough calculations based on the figures in this report).

So whilst the CPS has managed to increase its proportion of prosecutions for these offences an important question is whether the focus on the prosecution of sexual offences and domestic violence has impacted on other areas. The answer to that question must be yes but the statistics here are much more difficult to come by and do not attract headlines. However, they are no less significant for the victims of those crimes who may rightly ask why the perpetrators are not being brought to justice, particularly given the overall decline in people being prosecuted. Has the administration of justice been undermined by public spending cuts? Are decision making processes affected by budget as opposed to purely evidential and public interest considerations?

Meaningful analysis of statistics for fraud offences, for example, are notoriously difficult to interpret principally because of the way in which they are recorded (and possibly dealt with). Data from the Office for National Statistics suggest that something in the region of 3.8 million offences of fraud were ‘experienced’ in the year ending March 2016. One can only imagine that a tiny proportion of them are prosecuted and there is no question that prosecutions for serious fraud offences have been impacted considerably by the Treasury’s demand that the budget for the Ministry of Justice be repeatedly reduced. In the meantime, what price justice both in terms of its impact on the victims of fraud and the economy. Whilst the laudable efforts of the DPP in achieving justice for female victims of violent crime should not be over shadowed by this, serious questions remain about the impact of spending cuts on the prosecution of financial crime in particular.


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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.