Boris Johnson plans to set new targets for police in a bid to improve record-low rape prosecutions

Boris Johnson is considering setting targets for police to refer more strong cases to the Crown Prosecution Service - UNPIXS (Europe)
Boris Johnson is considering setting targets for police to refer more strong cases to the Crown Prosecution Service - UNPIXS (Europe)

Boris Johnson has been warned that imposing targets on police and prosecutors to improve record-low rape prosecutions will not solve the problem alone.

The Prime Minister's crime and justice taskforce is considering setting targets for police to refer more strong cases to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), according to the Guardian.

Targets to prosecute and bring more cases to trial were also reported to be planned for the CPS, with the detail set for to be announced later this year.

No 10 did not deny the report, and a Government spokeswoman said: "We will continue to work with the police to look at ways to improve their role in the investigation and prosecution of rape, and ensure that their guidance and best practice is implemented in every police force area."

Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said: "If this is as reported, I think it is an excellent move by the Prime Minister and his team.

"Targets are an imperfect tool but the specific focus on the Crown Prosecution Service is vital.

"CPS leadership put a perverse target on its own staff in 2016-17 of only prosecuting solid certainties, in order to increase their conviction rate.

"This has led to appallingly low numbers of prosecutions and convictions ever since, and to the latest shameful CPS statistics released at the end of last month.

"The police must now revert to submitting more cases which they consider to meet the evidential test to the CPS, and should be reassured that the previous brake on prosecutions will be removed."

However, Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition charity, said "we urge great caution in target setting".

"The setting of such targets needs deep thought and consultation, so as not to create yet another external objective which police and CPS yet again change their behaviour to meet, all the while still not focusing on victim needs and rights," she said.

She said one of the great challenges is how rape is "surrounded by myths" about how victims and perpetrators behave.

"Those working in the system, from police front door to the courtroom, know this.

"They need rules, guidelines and resources which help them counter these myths, and absolutely no abstract target which encourages 'managing' their conviction performance," she said.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women's Justice charity, said targets "may place pressure" on officers and prosecutors.

But she added: "The main change required is to reverse the CPS' risk-averse approach and bring more prosecutions where the evidence supports it."

The proposal comes after CPS figures last month showed rape convictions in England and Wales plummeted by a quarter in a year.

Just 1,439 alleged rapists were convicted of rape or lesser offences in 2019/20 - down 25pc from 1,925 the previous year, according to CPS data.

The number of completed prosecutions also reached a record low, with 2,102 in 2019/20, compared with 3,034 in 2018/19, a fall of about 31pc.

Dr Olivia Smith, a criminologist at Loughborough University who researches the justice system's response to rape, said "it's jumping the gun a little bit" to impose targets without identifying the causes of the problem.

"My concern is this target will lead to more acquittals at trial," she said.

"Unless they actually deal with the myths and stereotypes that juries hold, the inappropriate use of evidence, unless we stop looking into whether someone has GCSEs when they've complained of rape, unless we stop doing things like that it's not going to increase the conviction rate, it's just going to increase the number of traumatised victims."