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Women's groups refused permission to pursue judicial review of CPS

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice, was yesterday (17th March 2020) refused permission to bring a full judicial review challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which alleged the CPS had changed its policy and practice on decision-making in rape cases. 

The High Court granted an unusual all-morning hearing for the ‘permission decision’ and heard detailed arguments from the women’s pro bono legal team and the CPS defence. 

After retiring, the senior judges returned and announced they are denying permission to proceed further mainly on the grounds that it wasn’t the role of Judicial Review to determine disputed facts. In this case, where twelve volumes of compelling evidence presented by women’s groups was denied by the Director of Public Prosecutions because of his constitutional role as head of the CPS, they had to defer to his position.  

Following the permission decision, the CPS’ legal team then made an aggressive request for very high costs recovery from the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), a small charity whose funding for the case is known to consist mainly of small donations from women and men concerned about the state of rape prosecutions and including many rape survivors, despite the clear public interest nature of the case.

The case draws on publicly available criminal justice data showing a shocking collapse in the charging rate. Last year there were almost 60,000 reports of rape to the police, but less than 1,800 men charged, and less than 1,000 convictions secured. 

Responding outside the court, Centre for Women’s Justice Director Harriet Wistrich said: 

“We are hugely disappointed by this result. We may have lost in court today but we believe we have won in the court of public opinion. There is enormous public concern about what is going on with rape investigations and prosecutions, based both on the appalling statistics, evidence of inside whistleblowers and the experience of many women trying to seek justice.

“Ultimately the court was not prepared to deal with a complex factual dispute between our client and the CPS. This is not an end to the case as we will continue to expose the wrongdoing of the CPS which is contributing to the effective decriminalisation of rape. Ultimately our evidence and a lot more information on what is actually happening will come out. We are seeking leave to appeal. We will not stop.” 

Katie Russell, on behalf of Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

"We are extremely saddened and disappointed by this outcome, for our colleagues at EVAW and the Centre for Women's Justice, for all the rape survivors and Rape Crisis workers who contributed to the significant wealth of evidence amassed for this case, and of course for all those who've been impacted by rape, sexual abuse or sexual violence of any kind at any time in their lives.

It is clearly evident, from official statistics and through the first-hand experience of victims and survivors and the specialist workers who support them, that the criminal justice system is failing on sexual violence and abuse and has been for some time.

The significant majority of those who are subjected to these traumatic crimes don't currently have the confidence to report to the police, and a small minority of those that do see the perpetrator even charged, let alone convicted. This means the overwhelming majority of people committing these serious offences are walking free.

This is a monumental failure not just of criminal but of social justice and one that affects us all and with which we should all be deeply concerned.

All of us in the Rape Crisis movement remain committed to upholding the needs and rights of victims and survivors and doing all we can to ensure our criminal justice system begins to as well."

EVAW Coalition Director Sarah Green said: 

“We have no regrets about bringing this case. It was the right thing to do, and it was entirely necessary to challenge our justice system institutions when they are failing to keep women safe and deliver access to justice.

“We have been approached by so many women who have been let down by the CPS as we prepared this case. We know there are really serious problems. But instead of working with us the CPS chose to fight us. It is a long way from the kind of leadership we need in our public institutions. 

“We note in today’s judgement the acceptance of the very high level of power the DPP has to make decisions on the direction of travel in key legal areas. The lack of means to scrutinise the DPP needs to be addressed given his power over such an institution. The CPS is arguably failing to keep with the times on expectations for justice after sexual violence. The situation as it is cannot hold, it amounts to the effective decriminalisation of rape.

“We will seek to ensure the ongoing Government Rape Review analyses the evidence we have gathered in this case, and we believe ultimately it will be recognised that this will all be seen a sorry episode in the history of the CPS.”