PPS publishes latest statistical bulletin on cases involving sexual offences

Publication date:

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) today published its Statistical Bulletin: Cases Involving Sexual Offences 2021/22 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 2021/22 financial year (i.e., 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022) and includes comparisons with the 2020/21 financial year.

The Head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit, which handles rape and serious sexual offences cases, Ciaran McQuillan, said: “Sexual offences are abhorrent crimes that have a lasting impact on victims and their families, and cause significant harm in wider society. These offences also present complex and deep-seated challenges for the entire criminal justice system. Every part of the criminal justice system, along with wider society, carries a responsibility to tackle these challenges. The PPS publishes this Bulletin every year in order to contribute to wider conversations surrounding sexual offences.”

Mr McQuillan highlighted the broad findings of the report, which show, in 2021/22, an increase in the prosecution rates for all sexual offences of eight percentage points from the previous year (from 23.6% to 31.6%). For offences of rape the increase in the prosecution rate was 5.9 percentage points (17.3% of cases as compared to 11.4% in 2020/21). The number of suspects prosecuted for rape increased from 76 to 103 and for all sexual offences the numbers went also up from 416 in 2020/21 to 486 in 2021/22.

There was also a slight increased conviction rate for all sexual offences at both Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court level in the last year. Going further back to 2017/18 showed increased conviction rates in sexual offence cases from 58.2% to 72.7% in 2021/22 for any offence and an increase from 49.5% to 67.7% in the conviction rates for a sexual offence over the same five-year period.

Other key findings included:

During the 2021/22 financial year:

  • The PPS received a total of 1,509 files involving a sexual offence. This was a decrease of 3.8% on 2020/21 (1,568). There was an increase of 3.8% in the number of files received involving an offence of rape, from 578 to 600.
  • Files received included a total of 1,573 suspects, 622 of whom were charged or reported for rape (an increase of 2.3% on 2020/21) and 951 were in respect of other sexual offences (a decrease of 9.9%).
  • 1,540 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 35.5% of decisions, which included 546 decisions for prosecution or diversion from the courts. At 35.5%, the percentage of decisions meeting the Test represents an increase from 2020/21 (27.8%). 
  • Of the 994 no prosecution decisions issued during 2021/22, the vast majority (98.3%) did not pass the evidential test. The remaining 1.7% 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 274 calendar days (down from 293 days in 2021/22). Median days for summary prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Magistrates’ or Youth Courts) was 28 days (16 in 2020/21).
  • A total of 256 defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court in cases involving sexual offences. The overall conviction rate was 72.7% compared with 71.3% in 2020/21. In addition, 67.6% were convicted of at least one sexual offence.
  • Seventy-two defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an offence of rape and forty-seven (65.3%) of these were convicted of at least one offence (i.e., any offence). Twenty-one defendants (29.2%) were convicted of an offence of rape. Twenty-six individuals were convicted of at least one sexual offence not including rape.
  • A total of 190 defendants were dealt with in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts for a sexual offence during 2021/22. The overall conviction rate was 73.2% compared with 68.0% in 2020/21.

Mr McQuillan described the findings as “signs of gradual improvements”.

“While we recognise that there is much work still to be done across the system - particularly in respect of delay despite the improvements this year in the time taken to issue decisions - we are encouraged to see signs of gradual and sustained improvements in this Bulletin,” he said.

“There needs to be a continual focus by the whole criminal justice system and wider society to tackle sexual abuse and violence in all its forms. While anyone – regardless of characteristics including age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability – can be the victim of a sexual offence, we know that women and girls are disproportionately affected. We are feeding into the wider work in this area, including the PSNI’s Tacking Violence Against Women and Girls Action Plan and the Executive Office’s Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy.

“Our own updated PPS Sexual Offences Policy is at an advanced stage of development and we expect to launch this in the early part of 2023. It is intended to give a better understanding of the prosecution and trial processes. It also covers issues including consent, sexual offences myths and the support for victims and witnesses.

“It is important that every victim of a sexual offence feels confident to speak out.. In the PPS we understand that many victims of sexual offences may feel worried about reporting their experiences and going through the criminal justice system. We want to assure them that the team of specialist prosecutors in the PPS Serious Crime Unit are highly trained and experienced in dealing with these cases. They approach the decision making needed with sensitivity, fairness and care. We work with police to ensure that victims are listened to and always treated with respect.

“We remain committed to working collaboratively with all our partners to improve how these cases are dealt with in the criminal justice system including implementing recommendations from the Gillen Review into Sexual Offences.

“We also work with victim representative groups to help ensure that victims’ needs and views are reflected during the prosecution and court process.”

Mr McQuillan also appealed directly to victims and witnesses.

“If you have been the victim of a sexual offence, please report it to the police. You will have the services of dedicated police and prosecution teams. We work tirelessly with police to build cases, and we will prosecute these cases where we have the evidence to do so. If you are a witness and are able to provide assistance by speaking to police please do so and support victims who feel able to come forward” he added.

This is the sixth 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 (see Tables) and user information provided (see pages 14 - 16 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.

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
Website: www.ppsni.gov.uk

Media Enquiries please contact PPS Communications at: PPSPressOffice@ppsni.gov.uk or out of hours contact the duty press officer on 07920 271 804 or 07795 480 234.