Campaigners given go-ahead for legal challenge over decline in rape prosecutions

A group of women’s campaigners has been given the green light to pursue a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service over a decline in rape prosecutions.

The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition argues that, since late 2016, the CPS has taken a series of actions which have changed the way alleged rape cases are considered by prosecutors when they are deciding whether to bring charges against someone.

It says these actions have had a “devastating impact” on rape prosecutions.

EVAW went to the High Court in March asking to bring its case against the CPS, but was refused permission by two senior judges.

The coalition appealed the decision at the Court of Appeal and following a hearing on Thursday, was granted permission for a full judicial review.

The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Giving the court’s ruling, Lord Justice Underhill said: “We will give permission to apply for judicial review.”

In written submissions to the court, Phillippa Kaufmann QC, representing EVAW, it was the coalition’s case that the CPS has “since late 2016, taken a series of actions which were designed to change, and have in fact changed, the way in which cases of alleged rape are considered by Crown prosecutors, when they are deciding whether or not to bring charges against the alleged perpetrator”.

She said in EVAW’s submission, these actions “have had a devastating impact on both the volume and rate of rape prosecutions brought by the CPS”.

Ms Kaufmann argued that, from late 2016, the CPS began a “piecemeal but concrete volte-face” away from a “merits-based approach” to determining which cases should be prosecuted.

The CPS is opposing the legal challenge and argues that there has been no shift in policy.

It has previously said that the claim is “beyond the bounds” of a judicial review of policy.

At the High Court hearing in March, Tom Little QC, representing the CPS, said: “The drop in the number of sexual offences being prosecuted is a matter of real and pressing concern to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“But understanding the causes of the drop, and tackling it, require a whole system approach that encompasses Government, police and the CPS.

“This claim invites the court to be a substitute for that process and to be an arbiter of prosecutorial policy.”

EVAW director Sarah Green said: “We’re delighted in today’s judgment.

“We urge all those following our case, and especially those who are elected and who have any position of authority or leadership in the justice system, to read the evidence on our website and to ask questions about what is going on.

“This case has been brought because women have been denied justice and protection. Today validates our resistance to this.”

A spokeswoman for the CPS said: “In the hearing before the High Court, EVAW’s claim that the CPS had adopted a ‘bookmaker’s approach’ was found to be unarguable and demonstrably wrong. Today’s decision does not change that and EVAW did not seek to appeal that finding.

“However, the Court of Appeal has today decided that other procedural aspects of their claim should be the subject of a full hearing, which will be argued in due course.

“The CPS is committed to reversing the gap between the number of reported rapes, and cases coming before the courts. Working with the police, we are committed to driving improvements, building strong cases and accelerating the time they take.”

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