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Live webchat about rape and violence against women, with Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, Wednesday 5 December, 1pm

(94 Posts)
FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 30-Nov-12 13:26:25

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer first joined us for a webchat in March this year to support our 'We Believe You' campaign. Nine months on, he has agreed to come back for a LIVE webchat on Wednesday 5 December at 1pm to update us on what the CPS is doing to take a lead on rape and violence against women. Keir is happy to try to address any questions that were not fully answered in the last webchat but will focus on the CPS's progress on:

* The measures that have been put in place to support victims and witnesses of rape and sexual assault.

* The CPS's progress on handling accusations of/convictions for women falsely alleging rape. On false allegations, Keir said: "For the past year I have put in special arrangements for all cases of false allegations which has required them to be handled at CPS HQ. We are now requiring all Chief Crown Prosecutors personally to have sight of these cases and continuing CPS HQ oversight through quality reports."

* Victims being treated as guilty until proven innocent.

* The massive number of unreported rapes. Keir said: "It's our job to try and increase confidence in people to come forward. It's a big task but it's a must."

* What the CPS is doing to help the court process work better for victims of child sexual exploitation.

Keir was called to the Bar in 1987 and appointed Queen's Counsel in 2002. 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. Keir is married with two children.

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, 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 Wednesday 1pm for the webchat. If you can't join us live, please post up your questions here in advance.

Thanks
MNHQ

snowshapes Wed 05-Dec-12 11:30:03

Some more general comments:

I would second StewieGriffinsMom about the Scottish campaign. I was actually going to link it myself, but she beat me to it. It helps define consent, and gives men the responsibility of ensuring that they understand what it is and whether they actually have it.

I'm also going to second the point DyeintheEar made about rape culture. If it is acceptable to joke about rape, it normalises it.

Also, I agree with the other posters who have criticised the order of the points you wish/your office wishes to make. If you prioritise false allegations of rape over the very much larger number of unreported rapes and the treatment of the very much larger number of rape victims, who do come forward, it is really not surprising that women don't come forward.

Finally, and this is just a personal comment, I am shocked now at the extent to which I managed to repress what had happened to me. But I remember it now as clearly as if it happened last week, and I know that it did happen. That is why I think it is important that our culture does not normalise rape, that it does not blame the victim, and that it becomes easier for people who are raped to recognise that what has been done to them is wrong, to find the words to talk about it, and to find support, at whatever stage afterwards.

timeforachangebaby Wed 05-Dec-12 11:47:10

I wanted to add, I know you cant talk about specific cases, but having now been involved for over a year as a secondary victim, the current system, dis-empowers victims, to the point it is disrespectful, if I had know what our family was getting into, I would never have come forward and if anything was to ever happen again, I personally, and on behalf of my children would never come forward again, we are let down every step of the way by almost every organisation we deal with.

It is clear that public sector budget cuts are impacting on SS, the police and the CPS, as well as CAHMS etc, there is a complete lack of multi agency working and the only agency willing to go out on a limb is a charity on a 3 year contract.

This may be an improved system, but from my experience it fails at every point and the rights of the perpetrator outweigh those of the victim each step of the way.

And "multi-agency" working, it simply doesn't exist.

Offred Wed 05-Dec-12 12:04:01

FWIW I think the rights of someone accused of a crime should always be the concern of the criminal justice system but I think it is common to feel let down as a victim of any crime because people don't understand the law or how it functions well. It causes unnecessary distress to victims who feel attacked all over again by the adversarial court system. It could be avoided to a large extent by better education about law and the legal system before someone is a victim of crime and better explanations of these things by the system of reporting.

vigglewiggle Wed 05-Dec-12 12:52:42

What do you think the police could do better in the initial investigation stage - before CPS has sight of the case?

LineRunnerWithBellsOn Wed 05-Dec-12 13:04:38

Hello Keir,

I am wondering, in what percentage of cases does the CPS give Police advice 'pre-charge', and how does such CPS involvement correlate with NFAs (No Further Actions) on the one hand, and eventual convictions on the other?

Does the level of CPS involvement pre-charge vary from county to county?

Thank you.

LittleTownofBethleHelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 05-Dec-12 13:11:33

Afternoon. Apols for the slight delay: Keir is on his way...

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:12:50

Hi - I'm sorry we are running a little bit late - but here now and very pleased to have been invited back to answer your questions. I enjoyed it last time and I hope we can make up the time.

HotheadPaisan Wed 05-Dec-12 13:13:18

That intelligence options sounds very interesting, I would like to hear more about that.

HotheadPaisan Wed 05-Dec-12 13:14:47

Think the second bullet point is about stopping the prosecution and imprisonment of women who withdraw allegations or are unable to testify. Hope it is anyway.

LineRunnerWithBellsOn Wed 05-Dec-12 13:16:03

HotHead, hoping that, too. It was a big concern on the last webchat if I recall correctly.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:17:25

LineRunnerWithBellsOn

Hello Keir,

I am wondering, in what percentage of cases does the CPS give Police advice 'pre-charge', and how does such CPS involvement correlate with NFAs (No Further Actions) on the one hand, and eventual convictions on the other?

Does the level of CPS involvement pre-charge vary from county to county?

Thank you.

The CPS gives pre charge advice in quite a number of cases but I do not have the percentage to hand. I encourage this - we find that stronger cases are built where the police come to us early.

I am really happy to report that since the last Mumsnet webchat, our conviction rates have improved still further. For rape and other serious sexual offences the conviction rate is now at 62.5%, which is an all time record high. Good progress but still more to do.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:20:45

snowshapes

Thank you for taking the time to do this webchat. I'm a regular but have name-changed here.

My question: is there any point in reporting a historic rape case? What do you do in such circumstances?

What I have read on the Rape Crisis website and the Scottish government website (though I am guessing that the DPP has only responsibility for England?) talks about what you do when you are raped, but I am dealing with something which happened nearly 13 years ago, which I did not deal with at the time because I had two recent close bereavements and no family support and I just seem to have repressed it, because it was too much to deal with, till it re-surfaced this summer in my mind, to my distress. I?m guessing as there is no evidence, apart from what I am saying, there is no case, even if I wanted to bring one.

To complicate matters, the person who did it is not British, they are not resident in this country any more. So, personally I am not sure what, if anything, one could do here. But if you could answer my general question above, I would really appreciate it.

Yes there is a point in reporting a historic rape case. The starting point is with the police as they are the investigators and when they have established the evidence they will refer it to us if they think a charge could be brought. A lot will depend on how long ago the incident was and what witnesses remember etc but the mere fact that something happened some years ago is not a bar to prosecution.
So-called historic rape cases are not uncommon and in all of our areas we prosecute a good number of them.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:23:42

StewieGriffinsMom

Rape is such a common part of domestic violence, yet British courts presume a child's relationship with a father is more important than an abused women being protected from continuing abuse from their ex-partner.

Do you not see the damage caused to children and women when they are legally obligated to continue a relationship with an abusive man? This is a common reason women don't charge former partners with abuse because they know that they will neither be believed nor protected from long-term violence.

All this does is continue to perpetuate violent relationships raising another generation of children in violence.

Hi StewieGriffinsMom - the CPS is not responsible for family law matters, but I take your point. To my mind one of the most important things is encouraging those that have been subjected to abuse to come forward. I think it's a cause of concern when victims think they will not be believed or protected and it is our responsibility to do something about that. We have to start these cases in the same frame of mind as we would start any other case. We don't presume burglary victims are lying and we shouldn't presume domestic violence victims are lying.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:26:43

vigglewiggle

What do you think the police could do better in the initial investigation stage - before CPS has sight of the case?

Good question. The role of the police is obviously critical in the investigation of rape and domestic violence, and I am convinced there are a number of steps which if taken early make a real difference. For example, photographs and videos of the scene, careful recording of injuries, retention of the 999 call and early statements from witnesses. I'm glad to say that we've now agreed only this month an evidential checklist with the police to try to ensure that these steps and others are routinely taken.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:30:26

SirEdmundFrillary

Last week on Radio 4?s ?Today? programme a solicitor who represents abuse victims spoke about the CPS?s attitude of dismissiveness.

In my experience he?s right. Hearing it was upsetting but a relief. I don?t want to explain my own situation here.

With institutional racism organisations had to dig deep and to me this seems similar.

So my 2nd question is, what do you think of that?

I think, to be fair, the comment may have been about a decision of the then DPP back in 1970 in relation to the Cyril Smith case. I would certainly be extremely concerned to hear of any dismissive attitude by the CPS now. We have worked really hard in the last four years to develop specialists and I personally ask for and study reports from each of our areas every six months in cases relating to Violence Against Women and Girls to assure myself that we are doing things properly and to the best of our abilities. I think, and hope, that is one of the reasons the conviction rate for rape is going up.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:33:07

timeforachangebaby

How can victims who feel Stonewalled in their own cases get better answers? Ie victim has a question, the answer from OIC is - "that's a CPS decision I don't know" but a victim cannot speak to CPS to get answers to their questions and the police not seeing it as their job to question CPS.

Hi there. I understand your concern. In cases involving serious sexual offences I would expect the victim to have a single point of contact (SPOC) who they can ask questions of. This may be either a police officer or a member of the joint police/CPS witness care unit. We do work closely with the police and I would expect them to pass any questions from a victim on to us and I encourage prosecutors to be as open as possible about the decisions they are making.

LineRunnerWithBellsOn Wed 05-Dec-12 13:36:29

We don't presume burglary victims are lying

Good to hear a DPP acknowledging this. It horrifies me how widespread the myth is that women lie about rape and abuse.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:36:30

madeiracake

given that, as I understand it, in the overwhelming majority of rape cases - or perhaps more accurately cases of rape, including those which do not make it to court - the defendant is guilty but there is insufficient evidence to convict, has the introduction of a 'not proven' verdict ever been considered, and if so, why was it turned down?

It would seem more accurately to reflect the unprovability which is a central problem in the relationship between rape and the law and prevent victims from suffering the additional (considerable) psychological trauma of not being believed in court - would you agree?

Thanks for this. We have to be careful here not to make assumptions about victims or about defendants - all those accused of offences are entitled to be presumed innocent until a court finds them guilty. I don't underestimate the difficulties in bringing rape cases to court but it's really important that we hang on to this very important principle. Rather than create a halfway house as it were of not proven, I think we should concentrate our efforts on improving the conviction rate. That means we have to give victims greater confidence to come forward in the belief that they will be believed and treated properly and it means that we have to redouble our efforts to build strong cases with the police. We are heading in the right direction but I do accept we are on a journey here and there is more to do.

HotheadPaisan Wed 05-Dec-12 13:36:58

That is good news about the conviction rate, do you think society is changing and starting to believe women targeted by abusers? By the time it gets to courst a lot comes down to myths and preconceptions held by juries, and some judges.

Next big effort is to encourage more women and children to report and to convert more reports into prosecutions. What are the latest statistics on these things please?

SirEdmundFrillary Wed 05-Dec-12 13:37:32

Thanks, however it was clear what he was saying. I also rang the solicitor myself to tell him about my own experiences. It's clear that the attitude persists right now, and that is very worrying.

KeirStarmer Wed 05-Dec-12 13:39:36

MistressFord

DH is a CPS Prosecutor and prosecutes DV and rape cases. There have been lots of administrative and structural changes at the CPS as well as cuts in the number of prosecutors. He rarely has sufficient time to prepare cases before the trial and does not feel that he can do his job properly and fairly represent the victim. How does the DPP intend to address this to ensure that all victims of crime get a good service from the CPS.

It's true that the CPS has had to make significant savings - over 25%. However, notwithstanding the savings, our performance is in fact improving year-on-year against our key indicators. So far as cases involving violence against women and girls I have personally taken a lead in ensuring that our commitment in this area is not affected by the savings we have had to make. I would expect all of our prosecutors to be given sufficient time to prepare their cases properly and I do hold assurance meetings every six months to make sure I know what's going on in each of our areas.

timeforachangebaby Wed 05-Dec-12 13:42:26

I agree with SirEdmund, that this dismissive attitude exists, however I believe it is linked to understaffing and the issues raised by MistressFord.

Thank you for the answer to my question, I/we do have a SPOC, however the only answer I can get from a question asked 3 weeks ago, is he is busy and waiting for a reply from the CPS, having spoken to other victims, this is common, and as there is no right for a victim to communicate directly with the CPS, it appears to be a circle of non-answers often leading right up to trial.

HotheadPaisan Wed 05-Dec-12 13:42:44

What do you think about a change of terminology from 'victim' to 'target'? Still mulling this one myself.

slug Wed 05-Dec-12 13:43:25

" I do hold assurance meetings every six months to make sure I know what's going on in each of our areas"

Do you wonder, given the statement made anonymously by the partner of a CPS lawyer, why reports of this nature don't get to you? What does this say about
a) the structure of the organisation?
b) your own and your managers styles of management?

HotheadPaisan Wed 05-Dec-12 13:44:18

I wish there was a way to report intelligence for stats purposes at least. Even anonymously via the web or something like that. I know there are key crime reports which do something similar but I'm sure more could be done to help people log their experiences and be listened to.

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