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Under-resourced CPS can’t assign expert staff to all rape cases

5th Feb 2016

A watchdog has warned that rape and sexual assault cases are not always handled by specialist prosecutors as the Crown Prosecution Service’s dedicated investigation units are under-resourced.

The CPS’s newly established Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (Rasso) units are supposed to ensure that victims’ complaints are dealt with sensitively and efficiently by experienced lawyers. However, the report by prosecuting agency’s inspectorate, whilst being supportive of the initiative, found that in practice not all regional units were delivering high quality service.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders, dismissed the inspectorate criticism as outdated, noting that the CPS has recruited more lawyers to its Rasso units since the research was carried out.

“The expectation was that the Rasso units would be staffed with rape specialist prosecutors and paralegal staff; this is not reflected in the various models deployed,” the study says.

“There are limited welfare arrangements in place to support staff who handle exclusively such sensitive and distressing casework … The CPS is under-resourced for the current volume of work and even more so for anticipated future increases.”

The report added that it was “evident from the file sample that casework was not always handled by specialists in dedicated units and there was not an end-to-end approach with continuity of prosecutor throughout. This may explain the finding that compliance with all elements of the Rasso policy was not high.”

Rape allegations were dealt with by a rape specialist in only 53 of the 85 cases that were examined, the inspectorate noted. “There was continuity of prosecutor in only 44 of the 72 relevant cases (61.1%) and it appears that the file was dealt with in a dedicated unit in only 42 cases (46.7%), with a further eight where it was not known.”

The inspectorate highlights examples of good and bad practice, and closer cooperation with detectives was not always evident. “Although a new protocol between the police service and CPS … was agreed in January 2015,” the study said, “this had not been adopted across police forces during the fieldwork visits”.

Rasso units “should be staffed by ring-fenced specialist lawyers”, the report recommends. “They should not be abstracted for other duties such as magistrates courts advocacy. Refresher training should be compulsory for all established specialist lawyers.”

Responding to the criticism, the DPP said: “The CPS has already made considerable progress since this inspection was carried out. Most of the recommendations within this report had already been identified by the CPS and were being addressed before the report was published. However, there is always more that we can do.”