News – Politics – Labour pledges to fast-track rape and domestic violence cases through courts

Rape and domestic violence cases will be fast-tracked through the courts under a Labour government so that no victim has to wait more than a year for justice, Keir Starmer has pledged.

In an interview with the Guardian, the Labour leader said Boris Johnson had made no progress tackling gender-based violence during his premiership because of his “appalling” attitude towards women.TV debate between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss called off after presenter faints – as it happenedRead more

Talking on a visit to Liverpool, Starmer blamed the government for so few rape cases leading to charges. Analysis by the Guardian last year found that while there were 52,210 rapes recorded by police in England and Wales in 2020, only 843 resulted in a charge or a summons – a rate of 1.6%.

The former director of public prosecutions (DPP) said he initially could not believe the statistics, and asked his team to double-check them. “1.6% is staggeringly bad. And it’s an indictment on the government that the percentage is where it is.”

The most recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that while there was a 63% increase in the volume of rape prosecutions from 1,557 in 2020-21 to 2,537 in 2021-2022, the conviction rate dropped from 71% to 69%.

Victims are also waiting longer for justice after half of all courts were shut by successive Conservative-led governments since 2010, with additional cuts to the number of days judges can sit on trials.

Asked what he would do to tackle the backlog, Starmer said: “Possibly we could do more sitting days. But I think realistically, we’ve just got to fast-track certain cases to say: these have to take priority. Now, that’s always a difficult decision, because there are other cases in the system. But I think it’s the only way to drive these cases through. Nobody who’s been subjected to sexual or domestic violence should be waiting a year or more for their case to come to court. What will happen [otherwise] – what always happens – is that people fall away on that journey, because it’s just too long. It’s too hard to endure, and they never get the justice that they deserve.”

Starmer said he wanted to see an expansion of sexual assault referral clinics and workplace referral schemes for domestic violence. “You shouldn’t have to go to a police station to report what’s happened to you,” he said.

Domestic abuse cases have risen sharply in recent years. Serena Kennedy, the chief constable of Merseyside police, told Starmer that since 1 April her force had recorded 5,434 crimes flagged as domestic abuse, up 23% from from 4,402 in the same quarter of 2020.Advertisement

Starmer said that there had been “frustratingly slow process” since he stepped down as DPP in 2013. Politicians needed to listen to survivors who had been through the criminal justice system, most of whom concluded that “I wouldn’t do that again”, he said.

At a roundtable discussion with experts involved in tackling violence against women in Merseyside, Starmer supported a proposal to “flip” the status quo on who has to leave the family home after an incident of domestic violence.

Catherine Murray-Howard, the chief operating officer of the Torus housing association, criticised the current government strategies, which she said were overly focused on safe alternative accommodation for women rather than enabling them to stay at home with their children and their abuser being forced out.

“That government message for me is: why does it have to be the victim or survivor who has to change their life, and face that huge upheaval?” said Murray-Howard.

Johnson was unable to make “material change” in tackling violence against women and girls because of his own attitude towards women, said Starmer. “Not only his general attitude to women, but the dismissive nature in which he dealt with women standing up in the chamber.”

He recalled how Johnson belittled Paula Sherriff – then the Labour MP for Dewsbury, and a good friend of Jo Cox, who was murdered in neighbouring Batley and Spen – when she asked him to stop calling his opponents “traitors”, because it led to death threats. “I have to say, Mr Speaker, I’ve never heard such humbug in all my life,” said Johnson.

“His behaviour to her was appalling,” said Starmer, also criticising the prime minister for promoting Chris Pincher to deputy chief whip despite knowing that he had a reputation as a sexual predator. “Sexual and domestic violence is about power. And he gave power to a man who we knew was a sexual predator. And then he went on to commit further like behaviours. So there is no way that Boris Johnson could have possibly brought around the change that we need.”

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