PPS publishes latest statistical bulletin on cases involving sexual offences, including rape

05 November 2020

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) today published its Statistical Bulletin: Cases Involving Sexual Offences 2019/20 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 involving these offences.

The Bulletin presents key statistics for the 2019/20 financial year (1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020) and includes comparisons with the 2018/19 financial year. They are compiled independently by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit, Ciaran McQuillan, said: “Sexual offences are devastating crimes, which present significant and complex challenges for the entire criminal justice system. 

“The PPS is playing a central role in ongoing work to improve how the criminal justice system deals with these cases. This includes significant work with partners to implement recommendations from the Gillen Review. While we recognise there is much to be done across the system, we are encouraged to see signs of modest improvements in this Bulletin.”

Mr McQuillan highlighted the broad findings of the report, which show a slight increase in the level of cases which were able to proceed to prosecution at 28.7% (compared with 27.4% in 2018/19). There was also an increased conviction rate for all sexual offences at both Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court level and an increase in the number of files received from police.

“We take the continued rise in the level of cases referred by police as a sign that victims have confidence to come forward and report what has happened to them. We work closely with police to ensure that victims are treated sensitively at all times when they do take the brave step of reporting their experience and seeking justice,” he said. 

“Sexual offences remain some of the most challenging crimes for the criminal justice system to deal with across all jurisdictions. However, we want to reassure the public that we are fully committed to continuing our work with our criminal justice partners and victims’ groups. This is with the aim of improving outcomes for victims of sexual offending, while ensuring that prosecutions are conducted fairly and in line with the Test for Prosecution. We hope that changes being planned across the system will build on this in the years ahead.”

Work to improve the PPS approach to sexual offending, including the experience of victims, in the last year has included:

  • The PPS continuing to review and make improvements to its Serious Crime Unit, which includes specialist sexual offence prosecutors, to increase efficiency and to work closely and more effectively with partner agencies and victims groups. This  includes more structured working relationships with the PSNI Public Protection Branch to improve file quality and reduce avoidable delay in sexual offences cases;
  • The PPS working with other criminal justice partners to establish a Remote Evidence Centre as recommended by the report into the prosecution of serious sexual offences by Sir John Gillen. This work is being led by the Department of Justice and will allow vulnerable victims and witnesses to give evidence away from court.
  • Working jointly with the PSNI at the highest levels to improve the way in which the disclosure process operates. The Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, along with the head of the Serious Crime Unit, are working closely with senior police through the Disclosure Improvement Forum to introduce new and transparent approaches to the disclosure of evidence to the defence and are exploring ways for victims to have their voices heard as regards disclosure of their personal information.

Mr McQuillan added: “Effective change can only come through a thorough and open analysis of the issues across the criminal justice system that cause delay and inefficiency. Working with partners on the implementation of Sir John Gillen’s review and other initiatives will take time to bear fruit, but we are determined to improve both performance and the experience of those going through the system. This Bulletin plays an important role in informing public understanding of the issues in prosecuting sexual offences. 

“We are also committed to learning from improvements seen in other jurisdictions, such as elsewhere in the UK, Republic of Ireland and further afield. We will also be engaging with victims groups through our established stakeholder forum in the coming weeks to seek their views on some recent developments such as the new CPS guidance on addressing rape myths. 

“While it is encouraging to see a modest improvement in some of the figures including conviction rates, we recognise that there are difficult times ahead as the criminal justice system and wider society copes with the inevitable impact of Covid-19. 

“We recognise the enormous courage of victims of rape and sexual assault. I want to appeal especially to victims not to lose heart in the process if you have been told that your case is on hold during the unavoidable delay that is currently affecting many court cases. No case or person has been forgotten about and our work is continuing so your case is ready to go to court when possible. 

“Our Victim and Witness Care Unit is keeping victims informed about developments in their case, and we continue to engage with victims’ groups so we can better listen to and understand victims’ needs.”

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

Key findings

During the 2019/20 financial year:

  • The PPS received a total of 1,684 files involving a sexual offence. This was an increase of 5.6% on 2018/19 (1,594). There was a rise of 6.9% in the number of files received involving a rape offence, from 610 to 652.
  • Files received included a total of 1,801 suspects, 706 of whom were charged or reported for rape (an increase of 10.8% on 2018/19) and 1,095 for other sexual offences (an increase of 4.5%).
  • 1,755 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 28.7% of decisions, which included 503 decisions for prosecution or diversion from the courts. At 28.7%, the percentage of decisions meeting the Test represents a small increase on 2018/19 (27.4%).
  • Of the 1,252 decisions for no prosecution, the vast majority (99.4%) did not pass the evidential test. The remaining 0.6% did not pass the public interest test.
  • Median days for the issue of indictable prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Crown Court) in cases involving sexual offences was 255 calendar days (256 days in 2018/19). Median days for summary prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Magistrates’ or Youth Courts) was 20 days (45 in 2018/19).
  • A total of 217 defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court in cases involving sexual offences. The overall conviction rate was 69.1% compared with 64.3% in 2018/19.
  • Sixty-seven defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an offence of rape and 36 (53.7%) of these were convicted of at least one offence (i.e. any offence). Twenty (29.9%) defendants were convicted of an offence of rape.
  • A total of 153 defendants were dealt with in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts for a sexual offence during 2019/20. The overall conviction rate was 72.5% compared with 71.3% in 2018/19.

ENDS

Guidance:

  1. This press release should be read in conjunction with the explanatory notes and user information provided (see pages 23 - 28 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.

For media enquiries please contact PPS Communications by emailing PPSpressoffice@ppsni.gov.uk during office hours. Outside of office hours, the duty press officers can be contacted by calling 07920 271 804 or 07795 480 234.