Rape prosecutions examined by panel

PROSECUTORS in South Yorkshire have set up a ‘rape scrutiny panel’ to examine why trials collapse or defendants get acquitted.

The percentage of rape prosecutions which result in convictions in South Yorkshire currently stands at 69.1 per cent – 7.6 per cent above the national average.

Over the last 12 months, 56 out of 81 cases have been classed as successful.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Martin Goldman said although the success rate is surpassing the national average ‘it’s not time to rest on our laurels’.

He has now introduced a new system which will see unsuccessful rape cases scrutinised by a team of representatives from eight Yorkshire-based rape support organisations, including Victim Support, Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service and Barnsley Community Safety Service.

Mr Goldman said: “We are one of the best areas in the country at prosecuting rape cases but that’s not to say we couldn’t be better.

“We need to continually look to make improvements and I firmly believe the rape scrutiny panel will go along way towards achieving this.

“The panel members are tasked with identifying any common themes, trends or issues which may be leading to unsuccessful outcomes.

“It’s essential we learn lessons from our own actions but it can be difficult to objectively scrutinise your own work so I have called upon local specialists in this field to come together and give us an honest appraisal.

“Every six months the panel will look through the files of a number of rape cases which were either dropped or resulted in an acquittal.

“The feedback will be used to inform policies, strategies and training. We hope to improve victims’ confidence that they will be taken seriously and that the strongest possible case will be built and placed before the courts.”

Nationally, only 36 per cent of all cases handed to the CPS by police proceed to court, and of those, only 59 per cent resulted in a conviction in 2009/10 which includes offences accepted on a lower charge.

Julie Howorth, a counsellor with the Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service said: “Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service is pleased to have been invited to be part of the rape scrutiny panel and feel it is a good use of the expertise and experience we have amassed over the last 30 years of working with women and girls in Sheffield.

“We feel certain we will be able to offer an objective appraisal to help the CPS in their endeavour to further improve prosecution rates for rape.”