Innovative new measures aimed at improving the conduct and outcomes of rape trials begin this month, with the launch of the Rape Scrutiny Panel in the Northumbria Police region.
The panel, which is due to meet for the first time today, consists of ten specially-trained volunteers from the voluntary and community sectors with expertise in the subject. Their task will be to examine case files where it has been judged that no crime has been committed, or which were said not to have achieved the required threshold of evidence to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. They will also examine failed prosecutions, to look for ways to improve the process for future occasions.
In tandem with this system, the Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has also introduced a Court Observers Panel, which began work this month, to be present at all adult rape trials at Newcastle Crown Court. The Observers Panel will similarly be drawn from the voluntary and community sectors. It will report back to the Commissioner, particularly noting the unacceptable appearance of any myths and stereotypes such as the suggestion that victims have in some way contributed to what has happened, for instance, by the way they have dressed.
The Observers Panel will also consider whether the complainant’s needs are being properly considered in each case, whether the impact of sexual abuse on the ability to testify is being properly taken into account during proceedings and any sense of the victim being tried rather than the defendant.
Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, said: “The two different panels will publish their observations to improve the way rape cases are dealt with by the criminal justice agencies and to increase understanding between those agencies and alleged victims of abuse. I want these innovations to increase confidence in the process, encouraging victims and witnesses to report incidents, while assuring defendants that any improvements in the system will protect them too.
“The Rape Scrutiny Panel will specifically examine the police investigations, to see if there are ways to improve. The Rape Scrutiny Panel and Court Observers Panel are key parts of the ongoing Violence Against Women and Girls strategy which was launched in late 2013 in the Northumbria region and with my fellow North East Police and Crime Commissioners in the Durham and Cleveland areas.” Northumbria’s Assistant Chief Constable, Winton Keenan, added: “Northumbria Police welcomes this independent scrutiny from the PCC and her team and will embrace any areas identified that can be improved upon from a policing perspective. The wellbeing of the victim remains paramount.”