Sex assault survivors suffer ‘devastating’ crown courts backlog impact – report

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Rape and sexual abuse victims are suffering from the “disastrous impact” of an increasing backlog in the crown courts, according to a new report.

The charity Rape Crisis England & Wales said its Breaking Point report, published on Monday, outlines how a “crisis” in the crown courts has led to a “record high” logjam of 7,859 sexual offence cases and 1,851 adult rape cases.

It said a Freedom of Information request to HM Courts and Tribunal Service revealed the number of vacated and ineffective, “therefore delayed”, rape trials more than doubled from 2019-2020 to 2021-2022.

The same data shows the number of trials that were postponed at least once surged by 133%, it said.

The number of cases with three or more previous trial dates has almost doubled and there were five times as many hearings that had been rescheduled six or more times, it added.

In the last quarter of available data, the charity said adult rape and sexual offence cases in the Crown Court backlog have increased by more than 1,000 cases.

There has also been a “huge increase” in the number of ineffective trials due to lack of prosecution counsel, it added.

It said a breakdown of reasons for ineffective trial listings given to the Justice Select Committee showed 1,925 instances were due to the prosecution advocate failing to attend in the year to June 20 2022 – an increase of 1,722 in two years.

The charity said victims and survivors of rape and other sexual offences are “waiting the longest out of everyone to have their experiences heard in court, with an average wait of 839 days from report to completion in court”.

It said such delays are having a “devastating impact” on victims and survivors, with some attempting suicide while long waits cause others to give up on pursuing justice.

Rape Crisis England & Wales’ chief executive Jayne Butler said: “In Breaking Point, we shine a light on the disastrous impact that the increasing backlog in the crown courts is having on rape and sexual abuse victims and survivors.

“The postponing and rescheduling of cases multiple times is devastating the mental wellbeing of victims and survivors: they are being harmed by the criminal justice system.

“On top of lengthy police investigations lasting years, and long periods of hearing nothing, victims and survivors are facing their cases being rescheduled in the courts – often multiple times – or find that they have not been informed about key developments, such as changes to trial dates.

“Whether intentional or not, this further marginalises victims and survivors, who already feel de-prioritised in an imbalanced system.

“All of this is why we’ve long been calling for the establishment of specialist sexual violence and abuse courts, where court staff and judiciary would have trauma-informed training.

“We are also calling for rape and sexual abuse cases to be given ‘priority listing’, which would see them moved much more quickly through the system and give them a guaranteed court date, reducing the uncertainty that many victims and survivors have told us is causing them extreme stress and anxiety.

“We call for clear and formalised communication agreements between all criminal justice agencies so that survivors are told about key changes to the trial.

“It is vital that adequate and longer-term funding for life-saving rape crisis services is provided, so that survivors have the very specialist support they need if they choose to report into the criminal justice system.”

Reacting to the report, Ellie Reeves MP, Labour’s shadow justice minister, said: “After 13 years of failure, the Conservatives are missing in action in the fight to tackle violence against women and girls.

“The number of CPS staff and courts has fallen since 2010, and the Government has left the system powerless to deal with the largest courts backlog on record.

“Rape survivors are now denied justice for years, with a fraction of the number of rapists being punished.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government is delivering real improvements in the response to rape – in the last year alone the number of rape cases referred by the police to the CPS is up more than 50%, the number of suspects charged has increased by 54% and convictions are up by 65% compared to last year.

“We know more needs to be done, particularly so that victims have confidence and feel supported, which is why we’ve quadrupled funding for victims’ services, enabled them to pre-record court evidence earlier and away from defendants, and launched a 24/7 helpline with Rape Crisis.”

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