Court of Appeal rejects case over alleged Crown Prosecution Service change in rape prosecution policy

A legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over an alleged change in policy on prosecuting alleged rapes and other serious sexual offences has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) argued the CPS moved away from a “merits-based approach” to deciding which cases of alleged rape and other serious sexual assault should be prosecuted, which it said has given rise to “systemic illegality”.

The group claimed that, between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors became more risk-averse and shifted towards an “unlawful predictive approach when deciding whether to charge” alleged sexual offences.

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Their lawyers said this unlawful approach has led to a “shocking and unprecedented decline in both the rate and volume of rape offences charged by the CPS”.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves raised the issue of rape prosecution rates in Parliament after a campaign by the Yorkshire Evening Post last year

The CPS, however, said there has been no change in policy and argued at a hearing in January that the removal of dedicated “merits-based approach” guidance “did not result in any substantial change” in charging decisions.

In a judgment on Monday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the EVAW’s case, ruling that the CPS did not change its policy in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences.

The ruling comes after Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves raised the issue of low rape prosecution rates in West Yorkshire in Parliament, following a series of special reports run by the Yorkshire Evening Post last year.

The series featured the stories of rape survivors whose attackers had never been charged.

It also revealed that just 4.4 per cent of rapes reported to West Yorkshire Police between March 2017 and 2018 resulted in a charge, while one survivor told how her experience of reporting the crime stopped her from reporting the second time she was raped months later.

The Court of Appeal hearing previously heard that an average of 3,446 rape cases were charged per year between 2009/10 and 2016/17 and this fell to 2,822 in 2017/18 - down 23 per cent compared to 2016/17.

In addition, a barrister said, the charging rate has "declined precipitously" from 56 per cent in 2016/17 to 47 per cent in 2017/18 and 34 per cent in 2018/19.

However, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said in today's ruling that the removal of references to the “merits-based approach” in guidance for prosecutors “was not a change of legal substance”.

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde and Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing, said: “We do not consider that it was unlawful to decide to remove references to the merits-based approach from the Director of Public Prosecution’s legal guidance.

“Stripped of references to the merits-based approach, the remaining guidance is not unlawful.”

Lord Burnett added: “We reject the submission that the decision created any risk of systemic illegality.”

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