The Weekly Round-Up: Rape Report and damning findings from the Morgan Inquiry
21 June 2021
In the News:
On Friday 18 June, the Ministry of Justice published the End-to-End Rape Review Report on Findings and Actions, which assesses how the system is currently failing rape complainants, and sets out a plan to return the volume of cases progressing to court to pre-2016 levels.
In the two years it took to produce the report, the number of rape prosecutions continued to decline rapidly, prompting concerns that rape had been de facto decriminalised. The drop appears to stem from the CPS’s introduction of “levels of ambition” in 2016. Prosecutors were encouraged to aim for 60% of prosecuted cases ending in a conviction; perversely, this may have incentivised dropping weaker or more challenging cases, and resulted in a 60% drop in prosecutions even as the number of police reports increased.
There have been calls for the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland to resign if he cannot reverse the trend within a year. In the review’s forward, ministers collectively said they were “deeply ashamed.” Elsewhere, Buckland said he was “deeply sorry”.
However, the review has come under fire for an “astonishing” failure to address the effect of funding cuts, reduced resources, release under investigation, court backlogs and delays on the criminal justice system. When asked directly whether he agreed that the system was too under-resourced to be effective, Buckland replied, “I don’t believe we’re close to breaking point, but I do accept that there are pressures on the system which do cause some of the legitimate concerns that I’ve sought to address in the rape review.”
Buckland currently has 21 days to decide whether to request a formal reconsideration of the Parole Board’s decision to approve the release of Colin Pitchfork, jailed in 1988 after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986. Shortly after the review’s publication, an analysis of thousands of sexual offence convictions has shown that nearly a third of those convicted avoid prison, including those found guilty of serious sexual offences against children under 13.
In Other News:
- A long-awaited inquiry report into the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan has been published. Morgan, a young private detective, was found murdered in a pub car park in south London in 1987 with an axe to the back of his head. From the earliest days of the investigation, there were suspicions that the media had a part to play. Five police investigations failed to provide an answer. The inquiry Panel commenced work formally on 17 September 2013, and it was expected that the report would be produced within a year. The foreword attributes the delay to “very significant difficulties […] in accessing” key documents, some of which were not received from the Metropolitan Police until March 2021. Nevertheless, it finds that examples of corrupt behaviour were not limited to the first investigation and that the police made a litany of mistakes. Police chief Cressida Dick, who has been asked to provide a response to the Panel’s recommendations as soon as practicable, is resisting calls for her resignation.
- Concerns have been raised over the legal implications of two Covid-related developments. First, new figures show that 4,242 cases were dealt with under the single justice procedure (SJP) in relation to the health protection regulations last year. Critics of the controversial, “rushed” assessments argue that many of the resulting convictions are unlawful. In addition, ministers are expected to confirm that they are pushing ahead with compulsory vaccination for most of the million people working in social care in England. The legality of this kind of policy has been considered on this blog here and elsewhere.
- A new report suggests that the capacity of immigration legal advice in London is alarmingly far below the level of demand. An estimated 238,000 people are undocumented in the capital; there is capacity for a maximum 10,000 immigration legal aid matters. Other obstacles identified by the report include a lack of trained advisers and increasingly complex immigration laws.
In the Courts:
- A (Domestic abuse: incorrect principles applied)  EWFC B30: in a case reminiscent of a 2020 claim involving an allegation of rape which was so badly mishandled that it resulted in calls for a review of Judge Tolson’s continuing cases and retraining for all family court judges, a Family Court judge was found on appeal to have failed to implement “fundamental principles” and imported “outdated attitudes which have no place in the Family Court.” A re-hearing of a fact-finding hearing in a contact dispute between parents was ordered on the basis that “there was a constellation of failures in the judge’s consideration of the domestic abuse issue, including whether certain conduct constituted abuse.” The judge wrongly applied criminal principles, relied upon what he considered a past absence of violence during the relationship, and called the incident in question “highly situational.”
On the UKHRB:
- Marina Wheeler QC offers an extended overview of several decisions highlighting common themes in cases against members of the medical profession.