PPS publishes latest statistical bulletin on cases involving sexual offences

11 November 2021

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has today published its Statistical Bulletin: Cases Involving Sexual Offences 2020/21 which presents key statistics in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences, including caseloads and prosecutorial decisions. It also includes statistics on the outcomes of prosecutions at court.

The Bulletin presents key statistics for the 2020/21 financial year (1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021) and includes comparisons with the 2019/20 financial year. It covers a period in which the impact of the Covid pandemic was felt across the criminal justice system, including a significant decrease in court business during the early months of the pandemic.  

In what has been a particularly difficult time, the PPS commended the bravery and fortitude of victims of sexual offences who are going through the criminal justice system, and urged them to continue report their experiences to police.

The Head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit, which handles rape and serious sexual offences cases, Ciaran McQuillan, said: “Cases involving rape and sexual offences are some of the most challenging the PPS and the wider criminal justice system deals with. Victims of these offences are often vulnerable and we are committed to doing all we can to support them through the process when they come forward and report their experiences to police.

“This has undoubtedly been a particularly difficult period as the justice system continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Although we have continued to make prosecution decisions, progress cases as quickly as possible and bring cases to trial, we know the inevitable delays across the system have been difficult for victims.

“These cases present well recognised and complex challenges and progress is only possible through a long-term and concerted effort and investment from all parts of the system. The PPS is playing its part in the collaborative effort to address these issues and improve outcomes for victims.

“Although change will take time, there is positive news within the Bulletin. The number of decisions we have issued has been maintained despite the challenges of the pandemic. Although the number of cases concluded at court is significantly lower than before the pandemic, that is a reflection of the reduced capacity of the courts during part of this reporting period.

“As the justice system emerges from the pandemic onto a more normal footing, we remain committed to prosecuting these cases at their height where there is the evidence to do so, and working with our criminal justice partners to support victims and improve how these cases are handled in every part of the system.”

Mr McQuillan highlighted other broad findings of the report, which showed a modest increase in the conviction rate for all sexual offences at the Crown Court. A total of 94 defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court in cases involving sexual offences. The overall conviction rate was 71.3% compared with 69.1% in 2019/20.

Twenty-six defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an offence of rape and seventeen of these were convicted of at least one offence. Eight defendants were convicted of an offence of rape.

Other key findings of the Bulletin include: 

  • The PPS received a total of 1,568 files involving a sexual offence. This was a decrease of 6.9% on 2019/20 (1,684). There was a drop of 11.3% in the number of files received involving an offence of rape, from 652 to 578.
  • Files received included a total of 1,664 suspects, 608 of whom were charged or reported for rape (a decrease of 13.9% on 2019/20) and 1,056 were in respect of other sexual offences (a decrease of 3.6%).
  • 1,766 prosecutorial decisions were issued by the PPS in respect of suspects in cases involving sexual offences. The Test for Prosecution was met in respect of 27.8% of decisions, which included 491 decisions for prosecution or diversion from the courts. At 27.8%, the percentage of decisions meeting the Test represents a small decrease from 2019/20 (28.7%).
  • Overall, there was a very slight (0.6%) increase in the total number of prosecutorial decisions issued for sexual offences (up from 1,755 in 2019/20 to 1,766).
  • Median days for the issue of indictable prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Crown Court) in cases involving sexual offences was 293 calendar days (255 days in 2019/20). Median days for summary prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Magistrates’ or Youth Courts) was 16 days (20 in 2019/20).
  • A total of 147 defendants were dealt with in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts for a sexual offence during 2020/21. The overall conviction rate was 68.0% compared with 72.5% in 2019/20.

Mr McQuillan added: All rape and serious sexual offences cases are handled by a highly experienced team who understand the challenges and complexities and approach the decision making needed with sensitivity, fairness and care.

“We work closely with all our criminal justice partners including the PSNI, Victim Support NI and NSPCC to help ensure that victims are kept informed about their case and that their experience of the criminal justice system is made as comfortable as possible. 

“My message to victims is: please come forward and report your experience to police.                                                 

“We in the PPS are committed to prosecuting sexual offences robustly where the Test for Prosecution is met, and to improving the experience of victims as cases move through the system.”

This is the fifth Bulletin in this series which provides a statistical overview of all sexual offences, including an analysis of cases involving rape.

Further information

This summary should be read in conjunction with the explanatory notes and user information provided (see pages 21 - 25 of the Statistical Bulletin). Please also refer to the supporting document to this release Sexual Offences Classification (Offence Description and Legislation) available on the PPS website at https://www.ppsni.gov.uk/thematic-bulletins-sexual-offences.

These are ‘Official Statistics’ as defined in Section 6 of the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007. Statisticians from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency are on loan to the PPS and are responsible for ensuring that the statistics produced comply with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

The information presented in this bulletin is derived from the Case Management System, the main operational system within the PPS. This is a ‘live’ system with data being input on a daily basis.

The full bulletin may be viewed or downloaded by clicking the link.  

Any member of the public may comment on the report by contacting PPS as follows:

Statistics and Research

Policy and Information Unit

Public Prosecution Service

Belfast Chambers

93 Chichester Street

Belfast BT1 3JR

Tel: 02890 897100

Deaf / hard of hearing (SMS):  07795 675528

Email: info@ppsni.gov.uk

For media Enquiries please contact PPS Communications at: 


The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 418844 or 07795 480234.

A video message from Assistant Director Ciaran MCQuillan relating to this bulletin can be viewed below.