The record rape trial backlog risks undermining police efforts to bring more offenders to justice, London’s Victims’ Commissioner warned on Tuesday, after figures showed nearly 10,000 sex attack suspects are waiting to go before a jury.
Claire Waxman said although the Met still has an “enormous” amount to do to improve its success in tackling rapists, the force had been making progress by focusing more on suspects and improving the way it treats some rape survivors.
But she said the number of complainants giving up on their fight for justice because of court and other delays would not diminish unless ministers acted to cut the growing backlog of cases currently waiting for a Crown Court hearing.
Her warning — which is similar to recent alerts from the Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr and the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales Baroness Newlove — follows the publication of figures by the Criminal Bar Association showing a Crown Court backlog of 9,792 rape or serious sexual offence cases.
That’s one in seven of all backlogged cases.
The barristers said their research also showed that there was now an average delay of 18 months between a sex attack suspect being charged and going on trial.
In her remarks, which follow visits to London organisations helping rape survivors, Ms Waxman said more funding for criminal barristers was needed as well as action to reduce the trial backlog.
“If we are to tackle high victim withdrawal, the Government must fix the record court backlogs and fund our broken criminal justice system,” she said.
“We need more rape and sexual offences barristers to be made available and these cases prioritised in court listings or via specialist courts to help tackle delays and give victims quicker justice and recovery outcomes.”
Ms Waxman said that without such changes and independent legal advice for victims, the “positive work” of the Met in improving its handling of rape cases would not succeed.
She also emphasised that “there was still an enormous amount of work to do including the provision of more specialist support for victims from migrant communities, victims with learning disabilities, transgender survivors, and young victims”.
Ms Waxman’s remarks follow a warning by the Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr, that court delays are the principal for the low overall number of rapists being convicted.
Dame Sue said that contrary to “myth” more rape suspects were convicted in court than acquitted and that the “real problems are .. the things that don't get to trial because people get too exhausted or too scared or they can't face it”.
The Lady Chief Justice added: “I think a big part of this is delay. I think if something awful has happened to you, and it's going to take two years to get to court, that's not good. So I think the timeliness problems .. are really important here.”
Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, has also warned about the impact of a “clogged up court system” on rape convictions after Ministry of Justice figures covering the three months to the end of last September showed an increase in the number of cases outstanding for more than a year.
“No victim must be expected to wait years before their case gets to court,” Baroness Newlove added.
"Too many victims are withdrawing from the criminal justice system before their case gets to court. A staggering 61 per cent of police investigations were closed in the last quarter because the victim withdrew and 20 per cent withdrew after the defendant had been charged.
“Twenty-one per cent of rape trials are postponed at the last minute, highlighting an overloaded courts system that fails to prioritise victims.
“Unless we tackle the delays in our court system, we risk failing victims of rape and sexual assault once again."