Why is the CPS spinning rape stats?
The UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is turning into a remarkable spin machine. On Thursday, it published its 2015 report into violence against women and girls. The report was widely reported in the media as demonstrating that such violence was up over the past year. This doesn’t tell you much, given that ‘violence against women and girls’ is a recently invented and ludicrously broad category of offending that encompasses everything from sending harassing messages on social media to grooming children for sex. Nevertheless, the CPS claimed that convictions for these offences were at an all-time high.
The first thing to ask is why this category – violence against women and girls – exists in the first place. It’s because the coalition government announced in 2010 that preventing ‘violence against women and girls’ would be a priority. As a result, it created several of the offences that now fall into this category of violence against women and girls, such as the law against forced marriage. So it is hardly a surprise that prosecutions for offences that fall under ‘violence against women and girls’ are at an all-time high, since the category itself is newly invented and some of the offences it encompasses have only existed for a matter of months.
What is more worrying is that the report revealed evidence of the CPS’s prosecutorial failings. Take its treatment of the figures for rape offences. The report revealed that 2,581 people were convicted of rape last year, which is apparently the highest number of people ever convicted in a single year.
Yet the conviction rate for rape actually fell by three per cent. This means that, of all the cases brought to court, fewer cases ended in conviction than in the previous year. Worryingly, this drop in the conviction rate is the second drop of three per cent in two years. It now stands at 57 per cent, which is the same as it was in 2008. In 2013, the CPS was celebrating increasing this rate from 57 per cent in 2008 to an ‘all-time high’. Now, the rate has reverted right back to where the CPS started. This means that while rape convictions have risen numerically, they have fallen proportionately. Looked at another way, there have been significantly more acquittals in the past 12 months than in previous years. This means more innocent people have been prosecuted for rape than ever before.
It has become clear over recent years that the CPS simply spins statistics in order to suit its purposes. Consider its treatment of last year’s figures. On that occasion, as mentioned above, the conviction rate fell by three per cent, from 63 per cent to 60 per cent. This was not a historically significant drop, given that the rate had been rising year on year for the past decade. But the CPS still used that three per cent fall to justify the implementation of a new rape-action plan, which involved challenging the persistent ‘rape myths’ that allegedly exist among the public and ensuring that more people are charged and convicted of rape. Now, when the conviction rate drops again, the CPS simply focuses on the total number of people convicted of rape, a figure that says nothing about the success of the CPS in performing its function – which is objectively and impartially to select cases for prosecution that it thinks are more likely than not to end in a conviction.
The CPS tactic of charging more people, thereby pushing up the total number of convictions, while ignoring the fact that the conviction rate is falling, is an audacious bit of spin. These figures do not show that the CPS is succeeding in dealing with rape or ‘violence against women and girls’. In fact, with regards to rape, they show that the CPS is slowly reversing the recent increase in conviction rates by forcing more and more cases through court. The figures show that the CPS has become more focused on spin and media management than it is on performing its job of prosecuting with objectivity, impartiality and judgement.
Luke Gittos is law editor at spiked, a solicitor practicing criminal law and convenor of the London Legal Salon. His first book, Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans, will be published later this year.