LONDON (Reuters) - Women’s rights campaigners said on Monday they would take legal action against prosecutors, accusing them of secretly pushing through changes that had led to a sharp decline in rape cases going to court in England and Wales.
The Crown Prosecution Service denied making any changes to its practices, but said it was working to improve the way it handled cases involving sexual attacks.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition said prosecutors had stopped sending cases to court that they feared would be rejected by juries.
Government figures showed a near tripling of reported rapes between 2014 and 2018 in England and Wales, but over the same period, there had been a 44% decline in the number of cases sent to court, the coalition added.
“We have strong evidence to show that CPS leaders have quietly changed their approach to decision-making in rape cases, switching from building cases based on their ‘merits’ back to second-guessing jury prejudices,” the coalition’s Co-Director, Sarah Green, said.
“This is extremely serious and is having a detrimental impact on women’s access to justice.”
It said it had compiled a dossier of 21 cases which had not been brought to court despite compelling evidence.
In one example where a woman was repeatedly raped by her husband, the case was not brought for trial because the prosecutor said that the jury would not understand the dynamics of a controlling relationship, the coalition said.
The campaigners said they had sent the CPS details of its complaint and had launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to push for a judicial review.
The CPS said there had been no change in policy but it was looking at how to improve the handling of rape cases.
“Decisions whether or not to prosecute are based on whether our legal tests are met - no other reason - and we always seek to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so,” a spokesman for the CPS said.
The CPS has also been criticised for taking cases to court that have then collapsed. A review last year found that 47 rape and other sexual cases were halted after evidence was not properly shared with the defence, prompting an apology from the outgoing director of public prosecutions.
The CPS handles prosecutions in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal systems.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Andrew Heavens