Government to set up specialist rape court in Leeds

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Three specialist rape courts are to be set up in England as part of a pilot scheme designed to improve dismal conviction rates for serious sexual offences.

All court staff, police and prosecutors working on serious sex offence cases in the three pilot courts will receive specialist trauma training, the Government said, while Independent Sexual Violence Advisers will also be made available to victims.

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The scheme will be rolled out in Leeds, Newcastle and Snaresbrook Crown Courts, which will each have a dedicated courtroom for dealing with rape cases, while the rest of the building deals with other offences.

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The new facility will be in the Leeds Combined Court building.The new facility will be in the Leeds Combined Court building.
The new facility will be in the Leeds Combined Court building.

They were chosen because they are currently dealing with a higher-than-average number of sex offence cases, the Government said, although victims will not be able to select to have their case heard at these three locations specifically.

The announcement marks a year since the Government’s landmark Rape Review, in which it apologised and said it was “deeply ashamed” of the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “These pilots will focus on improving support for victims, tackling the backlog and reducing delays.”

The Government said it will use any learning from the pilots to help increase the volume and speed of cases going through the criminal justice system.

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It will also roll out the suspect-focused method of investigating rape cases, currently being used by five police forces, to a further 14 constabularies in the next year.

The Government said £460 million will be invested in victim support over the next three years, which will help fund more than 1,000 Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisers.

Attorney General Suella Braverman QC said: “The huge programme of joint working between the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police shows some encouraging green shoots of improvement.”

The most recent CPS figures show tentative progress in obtaining justice for rape victims.

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Data from October 1 to December 31 2021 showed a 4.6% increase in the volume of suspects being charged with rape – 550 in total, up from 526 the previous quarter.

The number of rape convictions also increased from 407 to 467 during that time.

But there were just 1,557 rape prosecutions in the 12-month period for 2020-21, down from 4,643 for 2015-16.

And Home Office figures released in April showed that the lowest charging rate of all offences continues to be for rape, with just 1.3% of 67,125 offences recorded by police in 2021 leading to a prosecution.