By Keir Starmer (March 13, 2013)
The Crown Prosecution Service has come a long way in dealing with cases involving violence against women and girls. In the last year (2011-12) we have seen the conviction rate rise to 73%, delivering the lowest attrition rates ever recorded. The CPS has now published a trailblazing report on so-called "false allegations" of rape or domestic violence.
In recent years both the police and prosecutors have put a great deal of effort into improving the way we investigate and prosecute sexual offences. The results of the changes and improvements that have been made are encouraging. Our committed and specialist staff have prioritised performance in these important and difficult cases. We have bolstered training, policies and guidance for rape and domestic violence specialists. Closer working with the police and specialist services has helped to address the types of ingrained practices that can ignore, or even add to, the victimisation of women and girls. But there is still more that we must do to improve.
In recent years we have worked hard to dispel the damaging myths and stereotypes associated with these cases. One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife. This report presents a more accurate picture.
At the outset it is important that we acknowledge the very damaging impact that a false allegation of rape or sexual assault – be it either malicious or misguided – can have on the person falsely accused. Reputations can be ruined and lives can be devastated as a result. Such cases will be dealt with robustly and those falsely accused should feel confident that the CPS will prosecute these cases wherever there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.
However, these cases can be extremely complicated. In November 2010, the court of appeal considered an appeal against sentence in the case of Ms A, who ultimately pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice on the basis that she had falsely retracted true allegations of rape she had made against her husband. This case underlined the need for police and prosecutors fully to investigate and carefully to consider the circumstances in which an allegedly false claim of rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence is made.
Following this case and in order further to support prosecutors in their decision making, I published new legal guidance on perverting the course of justice in July 2011. For a period of 17 months, I also required CPS areas to refer all cases involving an allegedly false allegation of rape, domestic violence, or both, to me personally to consider.
This report outlines the key findings from the review of those cases and the steps that we plan to take. Importantly, what it shows is that charges brought for perverting the course of justice or wasting police time for such "false" allegations need to be considered in the context of the total number of prosecutions brought for those offences. In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for making false allegation of domestic violence and three for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.
Furthermore, the report shows that a significant number of these cases involved young, often vulnerable people. About half of the cases involved people aged 21 years old and under, and some involved people with mental health difficulties. In some cases, the person alleged to have made the false report had undoubtedly been the victim of some kind of offence, even if not the one that he or she had reported.
This review has highlighted the complex nature of these cases. Prosecutors need to look critically at the behaviour and credibility of all those involved, not just the person making the complaint. In addition, the events of the last year have demonstrated that there is an urgent need for an informed national debate about the proper approach to the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. That debate needs to extend well beyond the CPS and the police.
I know that this report will help us to ensure that we are able to make consistent and sound decisions in cases involving allegedly false allegations. I hope, too, that it will help to inform the wider debate. I look forward to working with colleagues and stakeholders on these important issues.