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Live webchat with Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, Tuesday 13 March, 9.30-10.30am

(130 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 12-Mar-12 14:05:01

As part of our week supporting our 'We Believe You' campaign, we're very pleased to welcome Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosections, for a webchat on Tuesday, 13 March at 9.30am. He'll be happy to address questions raised by 'We Believe You'.

Keir was called to the Bar in 1987 and appointed Queen's Counsel in 2002. Before being appointed DPP, his main areas of practice were human rights, international law, judicial review and criminal law. He was named QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007 by the Chambers & Partners directory, and in 2005 he won the Bar Council's Sydney Elland Goldsmith award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work in challenging the death penalty throughout the Caribbean and also in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.

He was appointed as Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service in November 2008. Since being appointed, Keir has spoken publicly about the need to improve the way we prosecute cases of violence against women and girls. The second annual CPS Lecture was given by Baroness Stern on "The crime of rape and justice for victims". In April last year, Keir made a speech about "Domestic Violence: The facts, the issues, the future".

Keir is married and has two children: a son aged three, and a daughter aged one.

Because of Keir's professional responsibilities, the CPS has asked us to make a few things clear. Prosecutors take a case from pre-charge (giving the police advice in a complex investigation) through to verdict. The CPS authorises charges in serious or complex cases, including all charges of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence. Keir will be happy to address general questions raised by the We Believe You campaign, but please be aware that he won't be able to discuss the specifics of any cases, including those that are currently under investigation or going through the courts. Sentencing itself is a matter for the judiciary rather than the CPS, and as such it would be difficult for Keir to discuss the specifics of sentencing in any case. Finally (and somewhat obviously), changes in the law are a matter for Parliament rather than for Keir himself.

Do please join us on Tuesday at 9.30am for the webchat. If you can't join us live, please post up your questions for Keir here in advance.

Nyac Tue 13-Mar-12 09:56:48

Would the legal system be able to cope if women and girls who've been assaulted reported every incident of sexual violence?

SardineQueen Tue 13-Mar-12 09:57:09

Also in Darlene's question posted just now.

Thank you for talking to us today Kier.

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 09:58:51

This is a good question, which has been raised a number of times, the CPS prosecutes on behalf of the public. But obviously, the victim is central to everything that we do. For that reason, we have enhanced our support for victims in recent years and will therefore consult and support victims much more than we used to. However, you are right, under the current arrangements the victim does not have a legal team as such.

SardineQueen

I am interested in the question upthread about how the accused has a legal team but the victim is no more than a witness and so if not close to the prosecutor and has no-one there "on her side".

What can be done about this? It sounds like a lonely and scary place to be. If the accused has a legal team to look after his interests why not the victim?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 09:59:17

Yes, we would make it our business to cope.

Nyac

Would the legal system be able to cope if women and girls who've been assaulted reported every incident of sexual violence?

Nyac Tue 13-Mar-12 09:59:50

A 2005 Home Office Report on attrition rates in rape cases said that there were still police officers and staff in the CPS who suscribed to rape myths, the main one being that women lie about rape. What action has been taken to ensure that members of the legal system are not misinformed in this way?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:02:10

Yes- we've done a lot of work on domestic violence, and a number of cases we bring has increased significantly along with the conviction rate. Can we do more, yes. To take an example where we can obtain the 999 call in sexual abuse or domestic violence cases and play it in court this has a clear and obvious effect on everyone in the court.

CMOTDibbler

Do you think there is anything that can be done to improve prosecution rates for women who are sexually abused as part of domestic violence ? Anecdotally at least, it seems that women who go through this are not supported well, or taken seriously enough.

Also, do you have any feeling as to whether those who are seen at a specialist sexual assult centre get a higher prosecution rate than people who go to a regular police unit ?

slug Tue 13-Mar-12 10:02:12

It's an interesting question Nyac. Just how far can we go? I don't report sexual harassment, even though it's a part of my daily life. The implication is I'm supposed to be "flattered" by men commenting (frequently loudly from passing cars) on the size of my breasts. Nor do I report the groping and rubbing that happens on the daily commute.

I'm of the opinion (rightly I assume) that the police won't take it seriously and that they have better things to do with their time than deal with the low level harassment. But the passivity on my part contributes to a culture where sexual assault is normalised, making the next step, rape, seem less of a serious crime and more of an extension of what women put up with every day.

thebestisyettocome Tue 13-Mar-12 10:03:25

Hello Kier. I'm of the view that there are too many not guilty verdicts in rape cases simply because of mistakes made in the investigation process. Do you agree and if so, how can this be rectified?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:04:53

We have had an intensive focus on myths and stereotypes in recent years, and issued clear guidance. The myths and stereotypes set out by thE 'We Believe You' campaign come from the CPS rape manual. I personally chair an assurance group every six months looking at our performance across England Wales, a lot has happened since 2005.

Nyac

A 2005 Home Office Report on attrition rates in rape cases said that there were still police officers and staff in the CPS who suscribed to rape myths, the main one being that women lie about rape. What action has been taken to ensure that members of the legal system are not misinformed in this way?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:07:18

Any not guilty verdict that arises because of a mistake in the investigation is one too many. My own view is that the numbers of mistakes are going down, and the conviction rates are in fact improving. But we have to keep our focus and commitment, things can always be improved.

thebestisyettocome

Hello Kier. I'm of the view that there are too many not guilty verdicts in rape cases simply because of mistakes made in the investigation process. Do you agree and if so, how can this be rectified?

Darleneconnor Tue 13-Mar-12 10:08:12

A more technical question: I've often wondered why in cases where a man has eventually been revealed to be a multiple rapist (eg Levi bellfield, Peter Tobin et al) why can't they be tried for multiple attacks simultaneously rather than each victim having to do each case as if it is an isolated incident? Obviously time is a factor in some cases but there must be cases where multiple victims could testify at the same trail?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:11:07

Very good question, and I for one would welcome more debate on precisely this issue. Without changing the adversarial system it may be time to start identifying the best practice in Europe across rape cases.

Darleneconnor

Do you think that the British adversarial system of justice is disadvantageous to rape victims compared to the inquisitorial systems of continental Europe (which have higher conviction rates)? Could special 'rape courts' help in this?

highburyonfoot Tue 13-Mar-12 10:11:22

Children and older people (particularly from poorer households) feature disproportionately in the statistics for those killed and seriously injured on our roads. Why does the CPS not take killing by driving more seriously? A moment's inattention by a pedestrian or cyclist can result in their death, while a moment's inattention by a person behind a wheel can result in the death of others. If people in cars felt the consequences of their actions were more serious they might drive with more care for the people around them.

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:12:29

The law has recently been changed to allow precisely that, for all the reasons that underpin your question. The result sis much better.

Darleneconnor

A more technical question: I've often wondered why in cases where a man has eventually been revealed to be a multiple rapist (eg Levi bellfield, Peter Tobin et al) why can't they be tried for multiple attacks simultaneously rather than each victim having to do each case as if it is an isolated incident? Obviously time is a factor in some cases but there must be cases where multiple victims could testify at the same trail?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:15:34

Performance does vary across different police areas and I'm sure good leadership helps better performance, but there also other factors. Where the police come to the CPS and have a specialist rape teams the results tend to better.

Crumblemum

Why do you think some police forces do better than others? Is it just down to local leadership? I heard that Kent police have one of the highest 'no crime' rates in the country (where they say 'oh sorry that doesn't seem to be worth pursuing'). What can we do to make the pull up their socks

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:17:04

The CPS does have a say in court, and we try to persuade judges to give jurors guidance about myths and stereotypes.

Crumblemum

Also - does the CPS do anything/ have any say in courts? If so - should/ could judges give more direction about what to think about (and what not to think about eg some of the myth stuff in this campaign) at the start of the trial?

Nyac Tue 13-Mar-12 10:17:20

The Home Office report I referred to earlier also stated that rape prosecutions require a higher standard of evidence to achieve a conviction than other crimes e.g. what might convict someone for burglary, still won't be enough to convict a man for rape. Do you think that's still the case?

CMOTDibbler Tue 13-Mar-12 10:18:16

Thank you for answering my question. If I may ask another, is there a system in place to independantly review the cases (or even a random sample) that do not go to trial to try and establish whether those are being dropped with good cause ?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:18:54

I will be giving evidence to the Leveson enquiry in just a few weeks.

TheStandard

I'm very cross about the cosy corrupt relationship some journalists seem to have with the Met police. What kind of contact/passing on of info do you think is appropriate, and what kind of controls are needed to stop a Hackgate situtation developing again?

thebestisyettocome Tue 13-Mar-12 10:21:10

Dareleneoconnor. Brilliant question on the adversarial system. I've had the same thoughts for some time.
In the wrong hands it can make the experience feel like you've wandered into an all-boys lower-sixth debating society hmm

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:22:00

Thanks for this, I'm hoping to meet Barnado's in the near future,. You're right many children do find giving evidence difficult and we can make the court process better by giving them the protection they need. That is not always easy in an adversarial system. But i do think Barnado's and others are right to raise these questions and we will discuss them with them.

KateMumsnet

Hello Keir

Barnardo's is one of the organisations which we're supporting, as part of our We Believe You campaign. They've asked us to pass on a couple of questions.

Firstly, we know that many children find giving evidence in court a very difficult, and sometimes harmful process; how can we make the court process work better for victims of child sexual exploitation?

and

What can be done to tackle the low rate of prosecutions brought to court and even lower number of convictions for child sexual exploitation?

Thanks, on their behalf!

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:23:39

They do not require a higher standard of evidence, the test is the same.

Nyac

The Home Office report I referred to earlier also stated that rape prosecutions require a higher standard of evidence to achieve a conviction than other crimes e.g. what might convict someone for burglary, still won't be enough to convict a man for rape. Do you think that's still the case?

Prolesworth Tue 13-Mar-12 10:24:35

What can be done to combat the rape myths held by jury members on rape cases? It seems that attitudes are improving within the justice system, and juries are being given guidance to counter rape myths but such attitudes run so deep a few words from a judge is insufficient to shift those attitudes within the timescale of a rape trial. Attitudes take a long time to change and I don't think we as a society can afford to wait for the general public to catch up with the more enlightened views of those with professional expertise. What practical steps can be taken to stop juries from acquitting rapists on the basis of their belief in myths like 'women routinely lie about rape'?

KeirStarmer Tue 13-Mar-12 10:25:27

Ok, I know this is a real problem, its our job to try and increase confidence in people to come forward. Its a big task but its a must.

slug

Hi Keir

When you have time, I suggest you check out the #ididnotreport hashtag on twitter. There are just so many examples of women being sexually assaulted, sometimes in full view of the police, and no action being taken. It also shows the prevalence of a denial culture by the police and authorities.

thebestisyettocome Tue 13-Mar-12 10:26:57

Oh and yes Keir. Given a lot of people's obsession with tv programmes about scenes of crime there seems to be an idea that you always need a certain type of evidence in order to make a complaint about a sexual crime. Perhaps something more could be done to educate the public.

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