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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)
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.
Since there are a few questions on the question of 'false allegations' and perverting the course of justice it might be a good idea if I just clarified our approach.
The guidance I introduced last year was intended to ensure that we don't prosecute cases where individuals may have retracted or withdrawn their allegation because of some sort of pressure - direct or indirect.
It was a recognition that in a number of cases victims retract what are in fact true allegations and I wanted to make sure that we did not prosecute them for those retractions.
Can I ask, you have said the conviction rate is rising, how about the much mooted attrition rate of 6%, is the conviction rate improving because less cases are actually being prosecuted and the criteria for prosecution is getting higher, or are indeed more rapists being brought to justice.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition reports that 1/3 of girls aged 16-18 have experienced sexual assault or sexual bullying in schools.
School is likely the time where young men and boys form lifelong attitudes to violence against women.
What is the CPS doing/what further role can it play in preventing/prosecuting sexual assault in schools?
Thanks, I'm very glad you raised this. In the last few years there is an emerging body of evidence to suggest that far from domestic violence and abuse receding, there is a new generation of younger victims waiting in the wings.
It may well be that those aged between about 15 and 19 are most at risk. I have chaired a scrutiny panel looking at abuse of younger victims in this way and the CPS is considering how we can be more effective in dealing with this.
The first and most important point is to recognise that it's happening rather than thinking and hoping that it isn't. I have raised this at the 10 year anniversary event of the charity Tender, a great event which I attended last week.
I appreciate that clarification about false allegations.
If I may rephrase my earlier question: does it concern you that the myths/media attention surrounding 'false allegations' seems so much to relate to women (including in what I assume is your own phrasing in the OP)? Is there anything being done to counteract this idea that false allegations are something made specifically by women?
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.
Some of this ground I hope is covered by the British Crime Survey, however, you might want to note that victims can report anonymously via a Sexual Assault Referral Centre. Forensic samples can be taken if the victim so wishes.
Do you agree that "jokes" like the one in FHM do little to help the attitude towards victims of these types of crime.
It's an unfunny joke which doesn't help anyone, but it is really important that the message gets out loud and clear that so-called entrenched attitudes to victims need to be challenged. We've done a lot of work to try and rid the criminal justice system of myths and stereotypes about victims that have been around a very long time.
Women and girls are entitled to dress as they please, socialise as they choose, without assumptions being made about their character. For far too long this has bedevilled the way in which victims of rape have been dealt with.
And in relation to the above do you agree that the campaigns which send the message that women should stop getting themselves raped are equally unhelpful?
Absolutely. The idea that victims get themselves raped is repugnant. We need to focus on the offender here, not the victim. Offenders choose to rape, victims do not choose to be raped.
I think what is key to reducing levels of rape and sexual assault is improving understanding of the law on consent. It is frequently mis or not understood generally in society and I think that the govt ads aimed at young people, who are the group who experience the highest levels of violence, are a good move but they are not clear enough e.g. They perpetuate the myth that unless she says no it isn't rape in the minds of people who don't understand consent, and they are not adequate.
The cps guidelines on the law on sexual offences are very clear but unfortunately not known about or accepted by a significant number of people I think. Are there any plans to promote the guidelines or educate children about the law on consent?
We try to promote the guidelines as widely as we can, and they are publicly available. In addition to that, I try to ensure that we take every opportunity to speak to audiences including in schools about violence against women and girls. I regularly give speeches or attend seminars in a deliberate attempt to draw attention to the issues.
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?
Our latest statistics show that in the last five years the overall number of convictions in cases involving violence against women and girls rose from 52,000 to almost 67,000. Over the past year, for the first time ever, conviction rates in all three areas of domestic violence, rape and sexual offences rose compared with the previous year. And as mentioned earlier, the conviction rate for rape or other serious sexual or violent offences has risen to 62.5%, the highest rate ever recorded. This is good, but I do not want to be complacent. We have to remember that in very many cases victims do not feel confident in coming forward at all and more cases of rape are not reported than are reported, so there's a lot more work for all of us to do.
What would you say to a friend of mine who was in court last week as a witness giving evidence against her husband who assaulted her? Although the people from Victim Support were very supportive, and arranged for her to give evidence via video link, my friend had no idea about the legal process.
She was scared, overwhelmed and frightened. She spoke to the CPS prosecutor for about 5 minutes before court which really wasn't enough time.
Seems to me there would be scope for having an amicus type person to represent the victim and their interests, especially in domestic abuse cases as she felt her voice wasn't being heard on the same legal footing as the defendant.
I'm sorry your friend found the experience so frightening. In many areas, there are independent domestic violence advisors and independent sexual violence advisors who can support victims throughout the process, providing practical advice and information as well as emotional support. They do a really good job and we welcome the fact that we work closely with them.
" 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?
The assurance reports and meetings are only a small part of the story. We collate a huge amount of data about our performance. Our co-ordinators meet regularly and I've made it my business to visit the frontline staff as often as possible. So, for example, I have now visited nearly all of our offices across England and Wales at least three times meeting many thousands of staff face-to-face. I also carry out unannounced court visits. In the last two years I have been to 31 Crown Court centres across England and Wales where I have sat quietly at the back of the busiest court observing how we deliver our service.
62.5% of what? (See two posts up, thanks.)
I have heard horror stories of domestic abusers being denied legal aid and as a result the woman they assaulted having to be examined by them in the courtroom. Would you agree that legal aid is essential for both parties in cases of domestic violence?
And yet your staff seem reluctant to tell you about the pressures they are under.
Is it possible they feel unable to tell you about these?
Time has already run out on us, which is a shame because I can see there are many issues of real importance bubbling up and around this webchat. This is a topic that is of considerable importance to me. I will continue my efforts and the efforts of the CPS in doing all that we can to ensure that where cases can be brought to court they are and that victims and witnesses have the support they need and deserve.
The story so far is of good progress but much more to do. Thanks for sharing some time with me.
Perhaps there should be a campaign called 'Sexplicit' - promoting explicit consent before sex.
Yes, thank you for coming and I too hope youll come back.
I thought the answer to my question was quite a neat demonstration of not wanting to hear or believe a victim, actually. Theres the implication that what Im saying is wrong/mistaken etc. Keir will know what was said in the programme as he has a large press office. Thats why he said: the comment may have been , not, youre talking crap and that is not what was said.
His beginning the sentence with to be fair is a device intended to link himself in peoples minds with the concept of fairness.
The rest of the answer is just saying stuff I didnt ask about.
Its a difficult job and of course a lot of good work is being done but there are problems too and issuing big statements about progress is easy; changing things takes more and needs a willingness to listen uncomfortable things.
Im grateful for the opportunity to have done this though, so thank you Keir and mumsnet.
I'm glad he did the webchat and I'm glad he said that the CPS have rowed back on those horrible prosecutions of retracting victims. Good to get it in writing from him.
Still lots of questions that arise!
Thanks for coming on here and replying. But instead of saying there is a new generation of younger victims waiting in the wings, maybe you could have said 'there is a new generation of young people who don't seem to properly understand what consent and sexual abuse are, and who are growing up in an environment that promotes rape culture'. Sexual assault victims don't just happen: it is the people who choose to perpetrate assault who make it happen.
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