The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) today published its Statistical Bulletin: Cases Involving Sexual Offences 2022/23 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 2022/23 financial year (i.e., 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023) and includes comparisons with the 2021/22 financial year. It provides a statistical overview of all sexual offences, including an analysis of cases involving rape.
Ciaran McQuillan, PPS Assistant Director, and Head of the Serious Crime Unit, which handles rape and other serious sexual offences cases, said: “Sexual offending is abhorrent and should never be tolerated or excused. We in the PPS recognise the distress and trauma these offences cause victims and their families and we commend the courage of all victims.
“It is widely accepted across all jurisdictions that sexual offences cases are complex to investigate and prosecute. The bar is high to obtain a conviction. These are challenging cases to prove beyond all reasonable doubt. They are becoming increasingly complex, often involving large amounts of digital evidence and other evidential material which a prosecutor must consider. They can also give rise to sensitive issues in relation to disclosure. Cases involving sexual offending are less likely than other cases to result in a guilty plea, meaning victims must give evidence at a trial. There is no doubt they move too slowly through the system. Victims are left waiting too long for an outcome and feel frustrated with the criminal justice system when their case does conclude.
“We publish these statistics every year because we want to be open about our approach, and the challenges these cases present to the criminal justice system. Every part of that system – and wider society – has a responsibility to prioritise the issue of sexual offending and work together to tackle it.”
Mr McQuillan highlighted some of the broad findings of the report, including a largely steady picture in terms of longer-term prosecution rates for sexual offences including rape across several years and a significant increase in the numbers of files being submitted by police in 2022/23.
He said: “We received 1,858 files involving a sexual offence in 2022/23. This was an increase of 23.1% on 2021/22 (1,509). There also was an increase of 14% in the number of files received involving an offence of rape, from 600 to 684.
“We see this as a positive sign that more victims feel able to come forward. We urge victims to continue reporting their experiences to the PSNI and would reassure them that their cases will be handled with great care and diligence by police and prosecutors.
“However, increased reporting and the additional files that then come to us do also have an impact on the already under-pressure resources in the PPS and the wider criminal justice system. Like any other public service, there needs to be adequate resourcing to best serve the interests of justice and protect vulnerable victims.”
Mr McQuillan also highlighted an increased number of prosecutorial decisions issuing in 2022/23.
“A total of 1,981 prosecutorial decisions issued in respect of suspects in cases involving sexual offences, an increase of 28.6% on 2021/22 (1,540). The Test for Prosecution was met in respect of 27.3% of decisions, which included 540 decisions for prosecution or diversion from the courts. At 27.3%, the percentage of decisions meeting the Test represents a decrease from 2021/22 (35.5%). Of the 767 prosecutorial decisions issued in 2022/23 in respect of cases involving rape, 98 (12.8%) met the test for a sexual offence (including rape). A total of 76 (9.9%) met the test for a specific offence of rape (103, 17.3% in 2021/22).
“Although this represents a decrease on 2021/22, looking at the longer-term trends across a number of years, it appears that the prosecution rate for sexual offences has remained largely steady (23.9% in 2018/19; 24.7% in 2019/20; and 23.6% in 2020/21). For reasons that are not entirely clear, the prosecution rate in 2021/22 does appear to be out of step with the trend.”
Other key findings in the Bulletin include:
- Files received included a total of 1,936 suspects, 705 of whom were charged or reported for rape (an increase of 13.3% on 2021/22) and 1,231 were in respect of other sexual offences (an increase of 29.4%).
- Of the 1,441 no prosecution decisions issued during 2022/23, 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 272 calendar days (274 days in 2021/22). Median days for summary prosecution decisions (prosecution in the Magistrates’ or Youth Courts) was 36 days (28 in 2021/22).
- A total of 283 defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court in cases involving sexual offences. The overall conviction rate was 69.3% compared with 72.7% in 2021/22.
- Ninety-seven defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an offence of rape and sixty-three (64.9%) of these were convicted of at least one offence (i.e., any offence). Twenty-seven defendants (27.8%) were convicted of an offence of rape.
- A total of 208 defendants were dealt with in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts for a sexual offence during 2022/23. The overall conviction rate was 73.6% compared with 73.2% in 2021/22.
Mr McQuillan continued: “Overall the statistics present a largely steady picture in terms of prosecution and conviction rates over the past number of years, with a significant increase in files received and decisions issued in 2022/23. It should be noted that the conviction rates in any year do not directly correlate to the files received and decisions issued, as a file may be received in one year and prosecuted in the next.
“We accept that every part of the system, including the time taken for prosecution decisions, moves too slowly, and we regret the impact this has on victims. During the surge in trial work that occurred in the aftermath of Covid, we prioritised cases involving particularly vulnerable and young victims. In the last year we re-allocated additional staff to the Serious Crime Unit from elsewhere in the PPS to take decisions on the outstanding files, many of which related to historic offending.
“We have also continued to work with police to improve file quality and have streamlined processes to try to and ensure files contain all the necessary evidence to make a decision before they reach prosecutors, in an effort to reduce avoidable delay.
“As part of our efforts to be clear and transparent, we have recently published a revised Policy on Prosecuting Sexual Offences which offers guidance on the prosecution process and the support available to victims. We also continue to work with all our criminal justice partners and victim representative groups including Victim Support NI, the NSPCC and Nexus to improve how these cases are handled and the experience of victims.”
Mr McQuillan highlighted the need for long term commitment from across the criminal justice system in order to change some of the deep-rooted issues sexual offences cases present.
“We fully accept that much more remains to be done across the system to build the confidence of victims and improve how these cases are handled by every part of the criminal justice system, including the police, prosecution, the legal professions, the courts and the Department of Justice, all of whom have a responsibility to work together to improve the present picture. These efforts sit alongside the need for fundamental work in areas such as education and health.
“Finally, I want to speak directly to victims of sexual offences – please continue to come forward and report your experience to police. These cases are handled by a team of senior lawyers in our Serious Crime Unit. They bring years of experience and skill to your case, and understand the complexities of sexual offences, including the impact of trauma on victims. We work with police to ensure you will be treated with compassion and respect. We take decisions only in line with our legal Test for Prosecution. We will use the measures available to make your experience of the criminal justice system, including giving evidence, more comfortable. Our Victim and Witness Care Unit is a single point of contact, and can refer you to specialist support organisations who can help.”
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 here: https://www.ppsni.gov.uk/thematic-bulletins-sexual-offences.
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
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