This column appeared in the Friday 2nd July 2021 edition of the South London Press.
I will start my column with a warning that I am going to discuss sexual assault this week, in case some South London Press readers would prefer not to read on.
As an MP, I am often approached by constituents who have been let down by the criminal justice system. Some of the most harrowing of these cases involve rape and serious sexual violence.
Unbelievably, only 1 in 60 rape cases recorded by the police last year resulted in a suspect being charged and 44% of rape victims end up pulling out of their case before the trial begins. It is clear that they are being badly let down by the system and that far too few perpetrators are being brought to justice.
In a bid to improve victims’ experiences – from alleged crimes being reported to the police, to outcomes in court – the Government launched an ‘end to end’ rape review in March 2019. It was expected to report by spring 2020 but was delayed while a legal case was heard and more research was gathered.
In March of this year, with the results of the review still nowhere to be seen, the Labour Party announced its Survivor’s Support Plan. My neighbour Ellie Reeves (MP for Lewisham West and Penge and Shadow Solicitor-General) did a huge amount of work on this.
The plan states that rape and serious sexual assault cases should be fast-tracked through the criminal justice system, free and independent legal advice and representation should be available for victims, and a Minister for Survivors of Rape and Sexual Violence should be appointed.
The Government finally published the review and its recommendations on June 17th. While it is good that ministers took the opportunity to acknowledge the failures in the criminal justice system, the review has failed to adequately address the core problems.
Instead of bringing in immediate changes, the Government is introducing pilot schemes to look at some of the well-known flaws in the system. By contrast, Labour’s plan proposes the urgent roll out changes that would improve the support offered to victims.
The crown court backlog caused by the pandemic now exceeds 56,000 cases, and rape and serious sexual violence victims are being left to wait years for cases to get to trial.
Our justice system has been pushed to the brink of collapse by a decade of Tory cuts to the police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts. An apology and acknowledgement of failure is just not enough after more than two years of review and consultation. We need urgent action to protect victims and help bring perpetrators to justice.