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UK prosecutors accused of taking a 'bookie's approach' to rape cases

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Prosecutors may be failing to file charges in alleged rape cases because of "myths and stereotypes" about the women bringing the complaints, the Victim's Commissioner has warned.

Dame Vera Baird said that while the numbers of reported rapes are "shooting up", the number of prosecutions has "dropped off a cliff".

She expressed concern that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is taking a "bookie's approach" to charging decisions based on whether it thinks a jury would convict.

Her claims were strongly rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, who said cases are always judged on their merits - not "a perception of prejudice".

Dame Vera said there was no explanation as to why there had been a 173% increase in the number of rapes reported while at the same time there had been a 20% fall in the number of convictions.

She said it would be "wholly wrong" if prosecutors were not bringing charges because of concerns that a jury would not convict if, for example, the alleged victim was wearing a short skirt.

"The rate of its prosecutions for rape have dropped off a cliff," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It seems as if they must be taking account of the myths and stereotypes that juries have, which is not at all what they are supposed to do - a sort of bookie's approach.

"The worry is that the CPS are not doing what they need to do, which is to look at the merits of each individual case and say insofar as it involves myths, we will see them as something we need to overcome, not as a barrier."

However, Mr Hill said that in making decisions on whether to bring charges, the Code for Crown Prosecutors requires them to operate on the basis that they are dealing with an "objective, impartial and reasonable" jury.

"We are looking at the merits of the case. We see whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. That is not saying 'We don't think the jury will like this one'," he told Today.

"I reject the notion that we prosecute or fail to prosecute on the basis of a perception of prejudice or still worse a bookmaker's approach."

Mr Hill acknowledged there is an "issue of confidence" over the entire system, while he said the advent of smartphones - potentially containing vital evidence - meant bringing such cases is far more complicated than in the past.

"Within the last decade we have to recognise that these personal computers we hold in our pockets contain exponential amounts of data which policing and therefore prosecutors simply didn't have to cope with a few years ago," he said.