“From April to September last year 175 trials for rape and other serious sexual offences have had to be dropped because the victim could no longer cope with the delay”.
That was the claim from Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, when she stood in for Keir Starmer at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
So is she right?
Why do rape victims drop out of trials?
Labour told FactCheck that the source for the figure is Ministry of Justice data, which was obtained by BBC Newsnight and, as the party noted, covered in The Times.
That data relates to the total number of cases that ended with the alleged victim withdrawing from the prosecution after a decision to charge the suspect had been made. But it doesn’t tell us why all the alleged victims withdrew. While Newsnight and the Times set the failed cases against the backdrop of long court waits, both news reports are very clear that delays are only one of the reasons complainants pull out.
In fact, there is currently no official data from either the Victims’ Commissioner or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that could tell us exactly how many rape and serious sexual offence trials are dropped because the victim “cannot cope with the delay”.
And the 2022 Justice Inspectorate report into the police and CPS’s response to rape highlights that not all victim withdrawals are because of long court waits.
The report said: “Anecdotally we were told that delays in general lead to victim attrition, but in our case file reviews [of 54 cases] we found that in the two cases where the victims had withdrawn support after charge, the withdrawals were not due to any type of delay”.
It added: “In other cases we reviewed, victims wanted to proceed with a prosecution when they first reported the offence, but they later withdrew this support. The rationale for this was not always recorded.
“When reasons were given, they varied widely, from concerns about the time the process would take, to complicated relationships with the suspect, to wanting to focus on recovering from the incident rather than achieving a criminal justice outcome.”
Labour has been approached for comment.
Angela Rayner said 175 trials for rape and other serious sexual offences were dropped over a six-month period because the victim “could no longer cope with the delay”.
This is based on data released to BBC Newsnight. But those figures don’t tell us how many victims withdrew from trials specifically because of hold-ups.
And while some rape trials may be dropped due to long delays, other reasons can be behind this decision, such as “complicated relationships with the suspect”, according to a recent report by the Justice Inspectorate.
As there’s no official data from the CPS or Victims’ Commission on the reasons why victims pull out of prosecutions, it’s not possible to know exactly how many of the 175 trials mentioned by Ms Rayner were withdrawn due to victims no longer able to “cope with the delay”.