Falling rape prosecutions, and a wait of months before a trafficking-ring bust goes to trial; will Covid-19 be the final nail in the coffin of our broken justice system?

A breaking news story from local press in Lancashire – a story which inexplicably still has not been picked up by national press – has exposed a sex trafficking and prostitution ring operating across the north west of England. After a lengthy investigation earlier this year, eight people (seven men and one woman) have been charged with a combination of human trafficking, controlling prostitution, and brothel keeping, but will not stand trial until December 2020 at the earliest.

Alongside this, latest figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service show a damning fall in the number of rape prosecutions for the third quarter of 2019-2020, which continues an enormously worrying trend over recent months and years. As The Telegraph note:

‘Despite last year’s outcry over how badly rape cases are handled, there were only 542 completed rape prosecutions in the most recent quarter, compared with 684 a year earlier. The number of convictions has gone down in the same period, from 445 this time last year to just 362.’

What do these two stories have in common? They both highlight the total disarray of the justice system, and how it is being pushed to breaking point by underfunding. Will Coronavirus be the final nail in the coffin before the system collapses completely?

The police and the CPS have already come under fire for their approach to dealing with complainants of sexual violence, where “digital strip searching” has become a method of obtaining allegedly relevant information, which in reality only contributes further to a culture of suspicion and victim-blaming when it comes to women reporting these crimes.

Similarly, there have been allegations that the CPS have changed their threshold when determining whether or not to prosecute, adding yet another hurdle for victims to overcome when seeking justice. While these authorities have rejected the claims that this approach is fundamentally unfair, leading organisations such as the Centre for Women’s Justice argue that:

There is enormous public concern about what is going on with rape investigations and prosecutions, based both on the appalling statistics, evidence of inside whistleblowers and the experience of many women trying to seek justice.

of the criminal justice system has resulted in a situation where those who are subject to rape, sexual violence, abuse and exploitation are left waiting for many months, and even years, before there is the possibility of seeing justice. This concerning truth is being exacerbated dramatically during the current crisis, as jury trials and court dates all but cease while the country copes with Covid-19. It is simply unacceptable that victims should have to wait for extended periods of time before their case can be heard.

Legal recourse for those subjected to male violence has become an afterthought while the justice system has been cut to the bone in an attempt to save money, and it remains to be seen whether the criminal Bar will survive further restrictions on their ability to work while the Government has effectively left them to fend for themselves.

CEASE UK is calling on the Government to comprehensively re-evaluate the importance of the criminal justice system, and finally invest properly to ensure everybody has access to the justice they deserve. Further to this, it is imperative that the police and CPS review their charging and prosecuting procedures to ensure further barriers aren’t placed in between victims of violent sexual crimes and justice. To do anything else would be a grave and dire abdication of responsibility, and it must not be allowed to happen.