Victims of rape, domestic and sexual abuse will be given immediate access to trained specialists in police control rooms and a dedicated investigative unit in every force under a future Labour government, the party will announce.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, will say on Tuesday that Labour would ensure each police service in England and Wales has a specialist rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) unit. Control rooms responding to 999 calls will be given a dedicated domestic abuse adviser, she will say.
The plans will be announced in Cooper’s address to the annual Labour conference amid an acute crisis in the criminal justice system over the treatment of rape and assault victims.
Only 1.3% of 67,125 rape offences recorded by police in 2021 led to a prosecution, Home Office figures show. It means rape continues to have the lowest charging rate of all crimes.
It also comes as the justice secretary, Brandon Lewis, confirmed that rape victims would be able to pre-record their evidence on vide, available at all 83 crown courts in England and Wales from Monday.
Cooper told the Guardian: “Today it is estimated that 300 women will be raped. About 190 of those will be reported. But only around three rapists will even see the inside of a court, never mind a prison cell. That is a total disgrace and it has got worse rather than better over the last seven years.
“Specialist support matters. That’s why Labour will require specialist rape investigation units in every force and put local domestic abuse specialists into police forces and 999 control rooms to make sure victims get the expert support they need.”
Rape victims face as much as a three-year delay from reporting the crime to the end of their attackers’ trials.
In 2020, the government launched a five-year package of measures to make sure offenders of sexual violence are brought to justice and victims are properly supported.
It included fully resourcing specialist RASSO units with dedicated, highly trained prosecutors. The Guardian disclosed in October 2021 that two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales did not have specialist rape and serious sexual offence units.
The proportion of rape victims dropping out of cases before the police have charged a suspect has skyrocketed – from 24.7% in 2016 to 42% in the year to March 2022. For serious sexual offences, the proportion has increased from 22.7% to 33.8% over the same period.
The number of rape suspects being charged has also dropped.
The shadow justice secretary, Steve Reed, has said that, if elected, Labour would introduce courtrooms dedicated to dealing with rape trials in every crown court in England and Wales.
Perpetrators of domestic violence would be made to sign a register to monitor their behaviour in the same way as sex offenders under Labour plans.
The domestic abuse register would mean those convicted of serial offences and stalking must give personal information to the police and notify them of any change in circumstances.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Lewis said the introduction of video evidence would enable victims to apply to be cross-examined by lawyers in front of a judge in advance of the trial while their memories were fresh.
Barristers have said that the move comes at the wrong time because it is being implemented without resolving the current industrial action, and has been introduced without the necessary resources in courts.
Lewis also backed efforts by the police under Operation Soteria to end “blame culture” by focusing investigations on the past and present behaviour of alleged rapists, rather than testing the credibility of victims.
He also pledged to “explore every possible avenue” to bring down the crown court backlog, to resolve the barristers’ dispute as soon as possible.