Prosecutors insist performance targets did not influence rape charging decisions

The Crown Prosecution Service has insisted it has never made decisions on whether to charge rape suspects based on performance targets.

The body was forced to defend its position after reports emerged of it introducing a secret target for rape convictions.

Rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 2008, despite record numbers of allegations reported to police.

But between 2016 and 2018, the CPS is said to have confirmed it imposed targets on staff, according to the Law Society Gazette, with critics fearing this could have deterred prosecutors from charging complicated cases.

Crown prosecutors follow a code of practice in which offenders should be charged if prosecution is in the public interest and the likelihood of conviction is realistic – more than 50%.

But from 2016 onwards, the CPS asked staff to also consider a conviction rate target called a “level of ambition”. For rape, the ambition was for 60% of all charges to end in a conviction, according to reports.

The news led shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti (pictured) to declare she was almost shaking with shock while discussing the matter on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

At the time, a CPS spokesman insisted there had been no change in policy, but that “levels of ambition” were used to “track outcomes” of some cases – but it later stopped “measuring performance in this way”.

The body said it was now reviewing all performance measures and such “monitoring tools” must not be “confused with prosecution policy decisions”.

In a statement published on Thursday, the CPS said: “We have not changed our policy on charging rape, or any other sexual crime.

“Whenever the legal test is met, our dedicated prosecutors will bring charges at the most serious level they can, no matter how challenging the case.

“Every decision is, and always has been, taken in the same way, following the Code for crown prosecutors. No individual charging decision is influenced by any factor other than the merits of the case.

“Like most publicly funded bodies, it is right that CPS performance is tracked and analysed. This is carried out by the independent HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, which publishes its findings.

“We recognise how concerning this will be for victims of sexual offences but would like to make it clear that we are as determined as ever to bring perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice, whenever there is sufficient evidence.”

The statement said the “growing gap between the number of rapes recorded, and the number of cases going to court is a cause of concern for all of us”, adding that it would make any improvements suggested as part of an ongoing review on rape investigations.

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