Every rape victim will get the chance to avoid the trauma of facing a courtroom in a drive to stamp out “blame culture,” the Justice Secretary has announced.
Writing in The Telegraph, Brandon Lewis said technology for victims to pre-record their evidence on video will be available at all 83 crown courts in England and Wales from Monday, sparing them the stress of facing their alleged attacker while being cross-examined.
He said it was part of a series of measures to “transform” the way the criminal justice system dealt with rape and serious sexual offences as he admitted victims were “still not getting the attention and treatment they deserve.”
In his article - the first since he took up the post, Mr Lewis backed efforts by the police under “Operation Soteria” to end “blame culture” by focusing investigations on the past and present behaviour of alleged rapists, rather than testing the credibility of victims.
He also pledged to “explore every possible avenue” to bring down the crown court backlog, to resolve the barristers’ dispute “as soon as possible,” and to give powers to ministers to block the release of the most dangerous prisoners to protect the public from the risk of harm.
The video evidence move, which aims to improve a rate of as low as one conviction in 70 reported rapes, enables victims to apply to be cross-examined by lawyers in front of a judge in advance of the trial while their memories remain fresh.
With most rapes taking two years to come to court, pre-recording their evidence enables victims to get on with their lives without worrying about the prospect of facing a live trial.
Its supporters say it could also boost convictions, as defendants often delay an admission in the hope the victim will drop out. About 40 per cent of victims withdraw from prosecutions over fears of reliving the crime in court, intrusive police investigations and lengthy delays in coming to court.
The measure will be available at a final 20 crown courts in Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, East Anglia, Essex, London and the south east of England, bringing the total to 83. “It will spare many the agony of testifying in the glare of a live trial,” said Mr Lewis.
“We are working across Government to stamp out the blame culture that undermines victims’ confidence to come forward. With the expansion of Operation Soteria, we are making sure that rape investigations focus overwhelmingly on the suspect, so victims don’t feel as though they are the ones under the police spotlight.”
Mr Lewis has already met leaders of the barristers’ strikes, paving the way for “conversations” about how the dispute could be resolved.
“I will work tirelessly to deliver a justice system that works for everyone, especially victims. That means speeding things up. We must get the wheels of justice moving again, getting barristers back to work as soon as possible,” he said.
He added that efforts to bring down the near-60,000 crown court backlog would have a “particular focus” on serious sexual violence cases, “so we can get victims the justice they deserve, prevent them being continuously let down by delays and give them the space instead to start to move on with their lives.”
His predecessor Dominic Raab’s British bill of rights has been withdrawn and is being re-written to focus on immigration and deportation to unlock the asylum crisis, worsened by the record numbers of Channel migrant crossings.
But Mr Lewis made clear he would press ahead with Mr Raab’s plans to overhaul the parole system by restoring the power of ministers to block the release of murderers, rapists, terrorists and child killers. “Perpetrators must be punished and parole decisions must be proportionate,” he said.
He also pledged to tighten the criteria under which offenders are released so that, even if a parole board found a prisoner to be no longer a threat to the public, its decision could be overridden if it was felt safer to keep them behind bars.
“My vow to victims is this: I will champion your cause. I will give you a stronger voice. And above all, I will rebuild your confidence in the justice system,” he said.
Victims will be given a stronger voice and we will rebuild confidence in the justice system
By Brandon Lewis, Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice
As the new Justice Secretary, guaranteeing victims swift access to justice in a faster, more supportive criminal justice system is my top priority.
We have made some good progress. Convictions for rape offences are up two-thirds on 2020, and by a quarter compared to levels before the pandemic hit.
We have invested heavily in support for victims and witnesses - a massive £460 million over the next three years.
And soon, victims will be able to attend parole hearings for the first time, so they can see justice being done and understand why decisions are made.
I will be looking at how we can further improve the parole system so decision-making is clearer and more accountable to the public it serves. Public safety must be paramount.
This Government was elected on a manifesto promising a better deal for victims – and despite the great strides we have taken in the right direction, I’m under no illusion that we have a long way to go.
Nowhere more so than for victims of rape, who all too often, are still not getting the attention and treatment they deserve.
Today marks a crucial step on our journey, with all rape victims across England and Wales now able to apply to pre-record their evidence in the Crown Court. It will spare many the agony of testifying in the glare of a live trial.
Expanding this special measure across London and the south east completes our nationwide rollout, and makes good on a commitment we made in the Rape Review and subsequent plan of action.
It’s just one of the steps we’re taking to transform how the system responds to rape and serious sexual offences.
We are working across Government to stamp out the blame culture that undermines victims’ confidence to come forward. With the Home Office’s expansion of Operation Soteria, we are making sure that rape investigations focus overwhelmingly on the suspect, so victims don’t feel as though they are the ones under the police spotlight.
And we are boosting the accessibility of support with a new 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line, offering victims the help they need, whenever and wherever they need it.
I will work tirelessly to deliver a justice system that works for everyone, especially victims. That means speeding things up. We must get the wheels of justice moving again, getting barristers back to work as soon as possible.
I’ll be exploring every possible avenue to bring down the Crown Court backlog as quickly as we can, with a particular focus on serious sexual violence cases – so we can get victims the justice they deserve, prevent them being continuously let down by delays and give them the space instead to start to move on with their lives.
And I’m determined to continue the reform of the parole system. Perpetrators must be punished and parole decisions must be proportionate.
We will bring in a stronger Parole Board release test, and strengthen the powers to block the release of the most dangerous offenders – so we can protect the British public from the risk of harm.
I’m honoured to take on the role of Justice Secretary, and proud to build on what has been achieved so far.
My vow to victims is this: I will champion your cause. I will give you a stronger voice. And above all, I will rebuild your confidence in the justice system.