Rape Crisis England & Wales has released a new report, ‘Breaking Point: the re-traumatisation of rape and sexual abuse survivors in the Crown Court backlog’, which outlines the crisis in the Crown Courts that has led to a record high backlog of 7859 sexual offence cases, and 1851 adult rape cases. The report features several case studies that convey the immense impact of trial delays on victims and survivors and makes a number of recommendations for improvements.
The Breaking Point report shows that victims and survivors of rape and other serious sexual offences are waiting for the longest out of everyone to have their experiences heard in court, with an average wait of 839 days from report to completion in court.
These delays are having a devastating impact on victims and survivors, leading to deteriorating mental well-being and survivors attempting to end their lives as a result. One mum of a survivor spoke about the impact of her daughter attempting to end her life following a call about another court date postponement:
“She spent five weeks in a specialist hospital in another part of the country. This massively impacted on mine and my husband’s work and life and our other children. The emotional impact has been hugely exhausting.”
Long wait times are also causing some survivors to understandably drop out of the criminal justice system entirely, meaning that perpetrators are free to continue to offend and survivors are left to pick up the pieces of their traumatic experiences. The number of rape and sexual offence cases listed as a ‘floater trial’ (a trial not allocated to a specific court or judge) is at a record high, undermining the severity of these crimes.
One survivor, Ronnie*, shares how after waiting years for justice she no longer felt able to continue with the process:
“For the process to take 8 years...truly anyone with any kind of humane understanding would appreciate this is not acceptable? And who is checking on this case...why did it truly take this long? They didn’t give a jury a chance to make their own minds up about this, because they took too long without courtesy contact and support.”
- Exclusive data from a Freedom of Information request to HM Courts and Tribunal Service showed that the number of vacated and ineffective (therefore delayed) rape trials more than doubled from 2019-2020 to 2021-2022.
- The same data set shows that the number of trials that were postponed at least once increased by 133%, whilst the number of trials with three or more previous trial dates has almost doubled. There were five times as many trials that had been rescheduled six or more times.
- In the last quarter of available data, adult rape and sexual offence cases in the Crown Court backlog have increased by over 1000 cases.
- There has been a huge increase in the number of ineffective trials due to a lack of Prosecution Counsel. In a breakdown of reasons for ineffective trial listings given to the Justice Select Committee, 1,925 cases were due to the prosecution advocate failing to attend (Year to 20 June 2022) – an increase of 1722 in just 2 years.
Jayne Butler, Chief Executive Officer at Rape Crisis England & Wales said:
In Breaking Point, we shine a light on the disastrous impact that the increasing backlog in the Crown Courts is having on rape and sexual abuse victims and survivors. The postponing and rescheduling of cases multiple times is devastating the mental wellbeing of victims and survivors: they are being harmed by the criminal justice system.
On top of lengthy police investigations lasting years, and long periods of hearing nothing, victims and survivors are facing their cases being rescheduled in the Courts – often multiple times – or find that they have not been informed about key developments, such as changes to trial dates. Whether intentional or not, this further marginalises victims and survivors, who already feel de-prioritised in an imbalanced system.
All of this is why we’ve long been calling for the establishment of specialist sexual violence and abuse courts, where court staff and judiciary would have trauma-informed training. We are also calling for rape and sexual abuse cases to be given “priority listing”, which would see them moved much more quickly through the system and give them a guaranteed court date, reducing the uncertainty that many victims and survivors have told us is causing them extreme stress and anxiety. We call for clear and formalised communication agreements between all criminal justice agencies so that survivors are told about key changes to the trial.
It is vital that adequate and longer-term funding for life-saving Rape Crisis services is provided, so that survivors have the very specialist support they need if they choose to report into the criminal justice system.