Victims Bill and Operation Soteria
Earlier this week, the Government rolled out Operation Soteria, a new approach to dealing with rape and serious sexual offences, to all 43 police forces and rape prosecutors in England and Wales.
In a bid to tackle underreporting, low conviction rates and victim care, the Government, as part of the response to the 2021 Rape Review, is implementing a new system for dealing with rape and other serious sexual offences which focusses on the investigation and behaviour of the suspect, and ‘places the victim at the heart’ of the process. The scheme will bring together academics, prosecutors and police to tackle the well-documented and incredibly low rape conviction rates.
Operation Soteria has been trialled at 19 police forces and 9 CPS areas, with positive responses including an increase in the number of referrals, an increase in the number of cases prosecuted and a reduction in the number of days for a charge outcome.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill KC, said:
“Today marks the latest milestone for the Crown Prosecution Service in our journey to transform the way rape cases are investigated and prosecuted, learning from Operation Soteria.
“Over the past year, we have seen the volume of adult rape-flagged cases charged increase by 40% and are on track to significantly increase the number of cases going to court year on year.”
However, whilst this is an extremely positive step and has been well received, we cannot ignore that we are dealing with already worryingly low numbers in terms of justice for rape survivors. According to the most recent data available from the Home Office, of 7,746 adult rapes in England and Wales in 2022, only 354 resulted in a charge/summons; that is less than a 5% charge rate. We hope that the measures put in place by the Government will now mean that improvements start to show, and real change is implemented.
In addition to Operation Soteria, there are other movements at the moment to enact positive change for survivors of rape and sexual assault. The Victims and Prisoners Bill is making its way through Parliament and seeks to strengthen the rights of victims of crime, to ensure better protections through the justice system. The Bill would enshrine the principles of the Victims Code into law and roll out more Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) to better support victims of rape and sexual assault through the system.
There has been some in depth and important work on this Bill, which has been through its Committee Stage in Parliament where expert witness evidence was gathered. We are now eagerly awaiting the final stages of the Bill, on the floor of the House, before the legislation heads to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.
A carry over motion was passed in Parliament on 15th May 2023, which means that if a bill runs out of time in this Parliamentary session it can be paused and picked back up in the next session. A bill can only receive one carry over motion. If the Victims Bill does not get dealt with in the next parliamentary session, the end of which will likely coincide with the general election, it will fall and we will need to start all over again.
With the important and transformative work that has already taken place to get the Bill to its current form, and how important it is for survivors of rape and sexual assault, it is vital that this legislation is passed and does not run out of time.