This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

Women Against Rape response to MOJ regarding children and vulnerable adults

Today, Justice Minister Chris Grayling unveiled new proposals to be piloted in three courts – to exclude children and vulnerable adults from court trials, have them cross-examined in advance without the jury present, and a video played in court.

The Ministry of Justice said that currently ‘Judges have the power to intervene to prevent overly aggressive cross-examination and character assassinations.’ (Guardian) But they are clearly not using these powers enough.

We have been complaining for years that judges (and prosecution barristers) do not intervene to stop unfair questioning by defence barristers. So why are judges not being pressed to use their powers? Why, instead, remove the witness from the courtroom? The MOJ is not even saying that it will limit the cross-examination just that it will take the victim out of the court room where juries will not be able to see and hear the victim in person.

We have heard from many victims of rape who were ‘persuaded’ by the CPS to give evidence by video link, but later regretted it because, they said:

- They felt disadvantaged by the jury seeing them only on a TV screen, while the defendant was present in court. Our experience has shown that seeing someone on a TV screen removes the human connection and has far less impact, especially in this age of TV and video games.
- They were terrified by seeing only a close-up of the defence barrister on the screen, and said it would have been easier in court where they were at a distance and among other people.
- They could not clearly hear what was being said, especially when barristers and judge talked among themselves.
- They could not see the jurors’ faces, particularly reactions to unfair aggressive defence questions, and also whether what they themselves said was understood.
- The victim has the right to be in court if she wants to, and hear what is being done in her name.

Some of these disadvantages will also apply to the pre-recorded evidence being proposed.

Further, the DPP Keir Starmer said today: ‘The new CPS guidelines will require all child sex abuse cases to be dealt with by specialists in rape and serious sexual offences.’ (Guardian).

How many times have we heard this before? We keep hearing lessons have been learnt but we get the same changes trotted out as new, with the same tragic results.

The Metropolitan Police have had specialist rape units (Sapphire) for more than a decade; despite having been restructured a number of times they are still being exposed (including by the IPCC) for pressing victims to retract their allegations, not investigating thoroughly, etc.

Last week the DPP announced that victims would get the right to appeal against CPS decision to close prosecutions. It sounded promising, except that:

1) The Victims Right to Review will not apply to cases where the police have decided to take no further action and a file of evidence has not been submitted to the CPS – almost 60% of reported rapes in London are dropped before they reach the CPS.

2) The CPS claims to have been doing this for some years. Their website used to say that victims have the right to meet with the CPS and appeal their decision; in reality your only right was to be told in person why the decision not to prosecute had been taken – the decision was final.

3) In cases where the decision was overturned, victims and their loved ones had to gather evidence and get backing from determined organisations like ours before the CPS would listen.

4) In media interviews the DPP was at pains to stress that only in ’rare cases’ would such appeals lead to reopening a prosecution.

5) He is also quoted as saying that ‘Vulnerability can no longer be a barrier to justice and I want to see prosecutors actively challenging any misconceptions a jury might have . . .’ In our experience, misconceptions and outright bias start with police and prosecutors, not with juries. Most juries will come to the right decision IF the investigation has been thorough and it is presented to them competently and with conviction.

6) Over 50% of rapes are by partners or ex-partners. But nothing has been said about joining together the evidence of rape and sexual assault with other evidence of domestic violence. Often, each incident is dealt with separately by different officers. This is a major reason so many violent men get away with it and so many women are raped, stalked and killed by partners and ex-partners.

So how much will really change, and will it be for the better?

Notes to editor:
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