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Two thirds of rape and sex crime prosecutors threatening to quit

A survey uncovered just 246 criminal barristers are planning to continue with CPS prosecutions of RASSO cases (PA Archive)
A survey uncovered just 246 criminal barristers are planning to continue with CPS prosecutions of RASSO cases (PA Archive)

Two thirds of rape prosecutors are threatening to quit the specialism as justice chiefs face demands for investment in a system mired in delays.

A “devastating” survey by the Criminal Bar Association has revealed deep discontent among barristers who prosecute and defend in criminal cases involving rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO).

In the poll, 64 per cent of prosecutors said they plan to shift away from RASSO cases and into different areas of the law, while more than three quarters of newly-qualified barristers said they do not intend to become specialists in rape and sex crimes.

The survey uncovered that just 246 criminal barristers are planning to continue with CPS prosecutions of RASSO cases.

And, alarmingly for the Ministry of Justice, just over half of barristers who conduct advance videoed cross-examination of victims – known as section 28 cross-examinations, and a major government innovation in rape and sex crime cases – are planning to withdraw from the work, with many citing poor pay levels as the reason.

The news comes as the average wait between the date of an alleged rape and the conclusion of a Crown Court trial when the defendant is on bail reached five and a half years.

The total backlog in the Crown Courts of England and Wales stood at more than 66,000 in September 2023, double the figure of five years ago.

Around one in five rape or serious sexual offence trials had to be adjourned last year due to the lack of a prosecutor or defence barrister.

Tana Adkin, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said increasing fees for RASSO cases would start to tackle the problem, encouraging specialist barristers to remain in this area of criminal law.

“Doing nothing to increase RASSO fees is not an option unless we want to accept that rape and serious sexual offence trials will continue to be delayed for years, repeatedly postponed on the day because there is no barrister to prosecute or defend”, she said.

“The human cost for victims of these crimes as well as innocent defendants is beyond financial measure.”

She added that the survey findings are “devastating but sadly not surprising to a Criminal Bar that undertakes the management and presentation of the most traumatic and often explicit and intimate cases you can imagine without fear or favour.

“RASSO cases have been undervalued and underpaid for decades in comparison with other criminal offences.  It is time remuneration was increased so that dedicated criminal barristers are able to build proper careers in this specialist field.”

Responding the survey findings, a Government spokesperson said: “Barristers do vital work delivering justice for victims and ensuring trials are fair for defendants which is why we have increased funding for barristers’ criminal legal aid fees by 15%, which we expect will boost a typical criminal barrister’s earnings by nearly £7,000 extra per year.

“We have also increased fees for those doing pre-recorded cross examinations as part of our action to better support victims and see more rape cases reaching court, with an increase of over 50 per cent in adult rape prosecutions in the latest year”.

The government announced a £1,000 fee increase for barristers conducting section 28 cross-examination, unlimited sitting days have been allowed in the Crown Court for the last three years in a bid to tackle the growing backlog, while extra ad-hoc ‘Nightingale’ courts have remained in operation beyond the pandemic to conduct jury trials.