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Home Affairs Committee

Oral evidence: Policing priorities, HC 635

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 1 March 2023.

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Members present: Dame Diana Johnson (Chair); Lee Anderson; Paula Barker; James Daly; Simon Fell; Carolyn Harris; Marco Longhi; Tim Loughton.

Questions 258-327


I: Baljit Ubhey, Director of Strategy and Policy, Crown Prosecution Service, and Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services, Crown Prosecution Service.

II: Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, and Jessica Eagelton, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Refuge.

Written evidence from witnesses:


Domestic Abuse Commissioner

Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Baljit Ubhey and Gregor McGill.

Q258       Chair: Good morning, everybody. This is the fifth session of our inquiry into policing priorities, and we are very pleased to be joined by our first panel—representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service. Will you introduce yourselves to the Committee? I don’t know who would like to start.

Gregor McGill: Thank you, Chair. My name is Gregor McGill. I am one of the directors of legal services at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Baljit Ubhey: Hello. My name is Baljit Ubhey, and I am the director of strategy and policy at the CPS.

Q259       Chair: Thank you both very much. As I said in my opening remarks, we are looking at policing priorities. We are particularly interested, in this session, in partnership working, and I am going to start us off with a question that I think worries the general public at the moment. It is about the very large drop in charging and convictions since 2015—over the last eight years. I wonder whether both of you might be able to set this out for us: on partnership working, what are the big challenges in your relationship with the police that are resulting in the very low rates of charging and convictions? Again, I don’t know who would like to start.

Baljit Ubhey: I can come in and talk a little bit about some of the challenges and how we have overcome some of the challenges in the context of rape cases.

Q260       Chair: I think we are going to have a whole series of questions and we will drill down on that; we would just like an overview at the moment. Could you address the question from that overview?

Baljit Ubhey: From an overview perspective, one of the things we would say is that where you have specialism—whether that’s specialist investigators for more complex crime or specialist teams that are gateways to quality, whether that’s gatekeepers or civilians that support criminal justice units—specialism can make a huge difference in terms of building relationships, building understanding and, ultimately, building better cases.

Q261       Chair: Okay, so specialism within the police is the way forward.

Gregor McGill: I would agree with that. I would also say that we need to ensure that there is a proper focus by the police on criminal justice and criminal justice outcomes.

Q262       Chair: What does that mean?

Gregor McGill: If you speak to senior police officers, and I do quite a lot, they will say—Nick Ephgrave, who is the retiring assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police would say—that if you talk to a police officer, they spend about 20% of their time on criminal justice. If you put that across a five-day week, a typical policeman spends one day a week on criminal justice. They will do lots of other things: they will do safeguarding; they will do crime prevention; they will do other types of work. Actually, criminal justice has been a declining part of the police’s work for a number of years. Getting back to ensuring that the police have a proper focus on criminal justice would be very positive.

Chair: That is quite a surprising comment, to hear that the police don’t have a focus on criminal justice. We are going to come back to that. I am going to go to Tim Loughton.

Q263       Tim Loughton: We have had quite a lot of evidence about the state of the police in terms of new officers coming in. The statistic that has been quoted to us a lot is that 38% of police officers have less than five years’ experience. For some, that may be a good thing, certainly within the Met where there have been historic problems and issues with mindsets. But at the same time, it means we have got new officers who don’t have the real-life experience of how to deal with some of these cases, how to investigate cases and what should reach the thresholds be for going to the CPS or whatever.

Is that a fair assessment? Is your work being hampered by inexperienced officers taking up cases? What implications does that have for the CPS?

Baljit Ubhey: I definitely think that there is an element, which links back to the point about specialisms. Obviously, when people are inexperienced—it is not just frontline officers; it is supervisors as well—it is a real challenge for policing. The combination of that inexperience and mission creep for policing—the breadth of what they have to cover—does present real challenges.

Part of the answer to that is specialising a focus on criminal justice, and professionalising a focus on criminal justice. I think that professionalisation of criminal justice would lead to better partnership working and ultimately better outcomes for victims.

Q264       Tim Loughton: What does professionalising criminal justice as far as the police are concerned actually mean in practice?

Baljit Ubhey: It will mean different things for different crime types. For example, for cases that involve public protection issues, it is about having rigorous standards and training and development and support around investigations that involve public protection issues, and investing in that, and then ensuring that forces are delivering training.

Coming back to the point about what could support that, I think that is more a resource for the NPCC and the co-ordination activity. Greg mentioned Nick Ephgrave and the great work that has been done on disclosure. There is Maggie Blyth, who is the violence against women and girls lead. We are doing some really good work around violence against women and girls and domestic abuse. There has to be that focus on criminal justice, seeing it as really important. Investigation is a core function for policing. There does need to be an improvement.

Q265       Tim Loughton: Are you saying that because of the lack of professionalisation or whatever you want to call it, the police are less likely to investigate crimes appropriately, so they are less likely therefore to meet thresholds that will then be taken up by the CPS and in prosecutions? Or, because of the lack of professionalisation, are they coming up with crimes that wouldn’t necessarily meet the threshold, but they are passing them on to the CPS? Given that we are getting more police officers coming into the profession and therefore more new, inexperienced police officers, do you anticipate that will create extra work for you—that they may be referring more cases to you that normally would not pass the threshold—or the reverse? It is a difficult forecast to make, but this is clearly impacting the capacity of the CPS to take up some of these cases.

Gregor McGill: Practically, we do see an issue with the quality of the submissions that we are getting. If you look at the data that we jointly commit with the police, we return about 45% of the cases that are sent to us because there are obvious gaps.

Q266       Tim Loughton: How does that compare with, say, 10 years ago? Is the figure much higher now?

Gregor McGill: We are probably not comparing like with like. There has always been a problem with police file quality, but it is particularly acute at the moment because of the percentage of new, inexperienced officers and a lack of supervisory officers to help them.

I talked earlier about investment in criminal justice. They took away all the support services for those officers—they took away all the criminal justice units and they took away the supervising officers—and made the single PC responsible for the build of the case file and the submission to the CPS. If you are dealing with inexperienced officers, that is bound to affect the quality. There is a problem with resourcing, there is a problem with specialism, and there is a problem with investment in criminal justice.

In considering whether it is one or other of those things, the honest answer is it is a bit of both. They are sending us inadequate case files, which we then have to spend time and resources sending back, asking them to do stuff that is obvious and basic that is missing, plus sometimes they send us files where there isn’t any evidence to support the case.

Q267       Tim Loughton: Without putting words in your mouth, given that the police are getting more inexperienced due to the new people coming through, and given the absence of support mechanisms around them that might advise less experienced officers, “This is what you need to do,” or, “You need to make a more thorough case,” or, “Actually, that’s never going to pass the threshold,” you anticipate that this is going to get worse, surely.

Gregor McGill: It is difficult to look into the future, but it certainly could. Certainly, it is not improving at the moment. If you speak to senior police officers and extrapolate that figure of 38%, in another three or four years it could be over 50%. Without proper support, and without proper investment in criminal justice, it is certainly a reasonable assumption that the problem will at least not get any better and could get worse.

Q268       Tim Loughton: So a lot of your time is being wasted because you are having to send cases back because they are incomplete, and not necessarily because they wouldn’t pass the threshold for being taken forward to prosecution if they were complete. It is a lack of a complete case being sent that has gone through all the rigorous checks it needs to go through before it gets to you. I am just trying to get the basis of where the logjam is. Inexperience is clearly one of them; reduction of support services is another. But the courts are clogged up, and if we get a whole load of much better presented cases coming forward, the courts are going to be even more clogged up and your time is still going to be wasted on having to send back cases that still need more attention or more detail. Is that correct?

Gregor McGill: It is never a waste of our time to help prepare good-quality case files so that victims get justice, so I would not use the word “wasted”. It causes delay. It does waste—with a small w—police resources, and it wastes our resources, that ping-pong between us as to, “This case isn’t right.” But it is important that we build strong, quality files. It is important because of what you said about the pressures on the criminal justice system, which I anticipate are only going to get worse, that at the point of charge we have well-presented cases, because that will make the job of everyone—the police, us, the courts—much easier.

Baljit Ubhey: That is why on serious cases we are investing in early advice, because we want to build those strong cases. If our specialist teams are engaging with a cohort of specialist investigators who may be inexperienced but will build experience, that is a real positive. But if our specialist teams are engaging with thousands of officers who are not specialists, we are not getting that investment.

There is something about “Yes, there is inexperience, but how do we turn that inexperience into experience more quickly?” That is through having a more focused and dedicated approach.

Gregor McGill: Operation Soteria is a good example of how that works well—when police and prosecutors work well together.

Q269       Chair: Do you have a problem with experience within the CPS—in getting experienced people into these specialist teams—or are you recruiting lots of new people who do not have experience?

Baljit Ubhey: For things such as rape, we have had specialist units for a long time. Even with the resourcing challenges that, inevitably, we all faced, we did retain our specialist RASSO units, but it is absolutely right that some of the challenges we have faced are about bringing in lots of new lawyers. Our strategy has been to bring in new lawyers at the junior end and then use existing lawyers to move into the specialist units. But absolutely, that issue of inexperience is equally applicable to the CPS.

Gregor McGill: I agree with that, but there is a slight difference, in that lawyers have professional responsibilities. If you are a barrister or a solicitor, if you do not have the experience to deal with a case, you are a under a duty to say, “I don’t have the professional experience.” We try to make sure that we only deploy people in specialist units who have the skills to do the work. Baljit is entirely right: it is a challenge.

Q270       Lee Anderson: Thank you for coming here today; it is really helpful to us. On the statistic that police officers spend 20% of their time actually dealing with or investigating crime, what was the figure, say, 20 years ago? You can give an estimate.

Gregor McGill: It is difficult for me to say because I was not a police officer—

Lee Anderson: Was it higher?

Gregor McGill: I think it was.

Lee Anderson: A lot higher?

Gregor McGill: I think it was, yes.

Lee Anderson: That is interesting. I find that absolutely scandalous.

Gregor McGill: It is not my figure; it is a figure that I have had a conversation with senior officers about.

Q271       Lee Anderson: That’s absolutely fine. The public fully expect our police force to be achieving a figure much higher than 20% for actually doing their day job. Each day, or each passing week, we see new crimes being listed that the police should be investigating, such as Twitter crime, social media crime, wolf whistling and things like that. Out of that 20% of their time that they actually spend fighting crime, what sort of proportion of that is spent fighting real crime? I mean proper, hard-core crime like burglary, rapes and murders.

Gregor McGill: It is difficult to say. What we do know, of course, is that the amount of cases being referred to us by the police is falling. In very crude terms, that would be an indication that less is going into that. There have been a number of academic articles and articles in the newspapers talking about the fall in referrals and the fall in police investigations of certain cases.

Q272       Lee Anderson: Do you think that is because they are spending less time actually investigating crime?

Gregor McGill: I think it isn’t. I want to explain the context of that a little bit more. I think the police have been drawn into areas that they perhaps did not go into before because there are holes in other parts of the system. Talking to police officers, they will often deal with people who are having a mental health crisis, whereas before there would have been mental health professionals who would have been able to do that. The burden falls on to the police. So when I say that, I don’t think it is entirely a choice. In some cases it has been—it was a response to some of the challenges of austerity—but I think they have been pulled into areas that they perhaps did not have to go into before.

We need to make sure that they have the opportunity to do what people would think is their core business. I always say that if you go into a school and ask a child what a police officer does, they will say, “They catch criminals,” but they spend less and less time doing that now. It is a very, very difficult job and a great challenge for them, and we have to give them the space and time to do that. If you look at the figures, what they are doing at the moment is spending more time looking at more serious crime and referring less of the less serious crime to us.

Q273       Lee Anderson: Okay. Police and prosecutors—how do they work together? Is there a difference between different areas as you travel around the country?

Baljit Ubhey: There is definitely geographical variation. You can see that in the data for referrals.

Q274       Lee Anderson: I guess what I am trying to say is that if you see a referral coming from, say, my police force in Nottinghamshire, do you think to yourself, “This’ll be a good one. We can get our teeth into this and there will be no missing information,” whereas with other police forces you think, “Oh, it’s them again!”?

Baljit Ubhey: There is an element of local leadership here—where the local leadership puts a really strong focus on criminal justice. Undoubtedly, when there is that investment and culture of really prioritising criminal justice, we see that flow through into a better-quality product from the police.

Gregor McGill: If you look at the data on police file quality, it ranges from about 38% in the Met to 82% in Cambridgeshire. There is a grade across the 43 police forces. There is an element of truth in what you say. If you pick up a file in the Met, you will be more likely to expect to have to do some more work on it. That is the evidence. Not all Met files are bad—it is an average.

Q275       Simon Fell: Thank you so much for joining us; this is really interesting. I want to pick up on some of those points around prioritisation. I have a broad question to start with. What is your view of how the police are balancing the conflict between high-harm crimes such as rapes and high-volume crimes such as fraud?

Gregor McGill: I gave evidence to the Justice Committee on fraud. I had to accept, as did the law enforcement agencies, that sufficient resources were not going into things like fraud, which is commonly considered to be a victimless crime although it is anything but.

There are areas of crime in which there is significant investment, and they tend to be those about which there is significant public concern. At the moment, they are violence against women and girls, gang crime and crimes of extreme violence. Those are well investigated by the police: they have specialist teams, as Baljit says, and they put a lot of resources in.

At the borough level, it is more challenging. The more high-volume crime, when you are dealing with officers who are young in service and inexperienced—that is where there is a lot of challenge.

Q276       Simon Fell: Thank you; that is helpful. According to the figures from 2021-22, there were just shy of 5,000 charges or summonses for fraud versus 4.5 million crimes reported. There is a massive gap there.

Gregor McGill: A justice gap, yes.

Q277       Simon Fell: To your mind, is this about prioritisation, experience or a heady mix of both?

Baljit Ubhey: There is that element of prioritisation, rightly, because there are real challenges with serious violence. There are other challenges with fraud cases, in that the complexity is even greater in terms of the inexperience gap and the resources involved in investigations. But it is also fair to say that we have also seen challenges with some of high-harm crime types such as rape. Yes, the picture is improving, but things got worse before they are getting better. There are also challenges in areas such as domestic abuse, so it is a big challenge.

Gregor McGill: It is very difficult for the police, though: they are pulled in very many different ways and they have to make decisions. They have a limited amount of resources and they will always probably use those resources in the most high-harm, high-risk areas—as you would expect them to.

Q278       Simon Fell: We would, and I completely understand that. None the less, Sir Tom Winsor described fraud as having exploded, and not without good reason.

On fraud, to build on Mr Anderson’s point, are the cases sufficiently robust as a crime type when they are brought to you? When you look across the whole of the UK, does the quality of the cases that come to you speak to a lack of experience within forces?

Gregor McGill: Where they are investigated by a specialist team—so, if they come from the City of London Police or HMRC or from a specialist fraud unit within a regional force—you will see a better quality. All the experience shows that if you have specialist investigators and specialist prosecutors, you will get better results.

In our specialist central units that deal with the high-value frauds, and the more complicated frauds, you will have contact between prosecutors and investigators at an early stage, and they will work together to build a file. That works very well.

At a more local level, there will be challenges. As Baljit has alluded to, an investigation of fraud does suck in resource and requires a lot of investigation. You have to have quite a lot of knowledge to know the lines of inquiry that you are going to have to follow to build a good, strong fraud case. That is a challenge for a resource-strapped police force.

Q279       Simon Fell: Thank you for that. When we have taken evidence from serving officers, they have been very careful to walk this line of, “This is a high-volume crime; we can’t arrest our way out of it. Prevention is a key part of our response.” Do you think they are getting that balance right?

Gregor McGill: That is a very difficult question for us to answer, because the people who have to make that decision are the police leaders who are making those decisions every single day. We have talked about the fall in referrals for charges and the drop in the quality of files—the figures would indicate that not enough resource is going into it—but it is very difficult for me to comment, and I do not want to be seen as critical, because police leaders have to make very difficult decisions every single day, and it wouldn’t be right for me to second-guess that.

Q280       Simon Fell: We have spoken about the complexity of these cases and the experience within the police to deal with them. In your own organisation, do you feel that you have the technical expertise you need to deal with some of these complex fraud cases?

Gregor McGill: Yes, although it is getting more complicated every day. The cyber world and the way fraud works and the ease with which money can cross international borders means you have to have quite an experienced prosecutor who understands the cyber world and the world of international fraud, but also understands money laundering and how to build relations with international partners to ensure that you can reach proceeds of crime in hard-to-reach jurisdictions.

We do have an awful lot of experience, but it is sometimes a challenge to recruit the people we need on the salaries that we offer. What we say is that we offer a good all-round package. We have some very good, very experienced, very dedicated people working in our specialist units, who achieve very good results every single day, but they do that in partnership with professional police officers.

Q281       Simon Fell: You have prompted me to ask a further question on that point around recruitment. We heard from the law enforcement side that they struggle against the private sector, and that people they train up disappear off for higher salaries. I assume you see the same thing.

Gregor McGill: We do see that. We invest a lot in people, particularly when we train them to be advocates, and they go back to the self-employed Bar. That is something that we just have to live with. We offer a good package. We offer a good opportunity for people to come in, work with us and learn some very good skills. Yes, we have a problem of recruitment and retention. It is a challenge on a daily basis.

Q282       Simon Fell: Is it harder to recruit in this area?

Gregor McGill: Well, the salaries in the private sector in London are more out of kilter with what the civil service officers.

Q283       Chair: What is the starting salary for a lawyer in the CPS?

Gregor McGill: I don’t know the exact figure but I can find out. I think it’s about £28,000 or £29,000 if you’re a Crown prosecutor—maybe a little bit more.

Q284       Chair: Okay, if you want to send us the details, that would be helpful.

Gregor McGill: The pay scales are publicly available.

Chair: Okay, thank you.

Q285       Marco Longhi: The police have come under some scrutiny at this meeting, and probably with plenty of good reason, but I have spoken to a number of police officers when I have tried to follow up for constituents who have been victims of crime, and I have to say that the general sense I get from them is that the level of paperwork they have to comply with to get cases through the criminal justice system, and the effort that has to be put in, only for the judgment to be effectively the release of criminals with relatively little punishment, is very demoralising. Police forces are effectively saying, “What’s the point?” You then get into the vicious circle of police saying, “Well, we shall only go after those crimes where we think we have a higher chance of getting something actually done through the criminal justice system.”

I want to stand up for those constituents of mine. We might be describing low-level crime, but it could be life-changing for them, so I think all crime should be treated with a degree of incisiveness by both the police and the criminal justice system as a whole, because they deserve it as citizens, as taxpayers and, ultimately, as victims. But if the police are saying to me, “What’s the point? Because even when we do top and tail everything and dot i’s and cross t’s, nothing comes out”—people are just let out and there are no consequences to be paid by the perpetrators of crime—they will then start making the choice to go after only those crimes where they think they have a chance of making sure that people do pay for their crime. How would you respond to that?

Gregor McGill: The first thing I would say is that of course we prepare cases and put cases through, but sentencing is a matter for independent judges, and there are sentencing guidelines for independent judges to follow in various categories of case. So what comes out of it has nothing to do with the Crown Prosecution Service.

On this idea that a lot of effort goes into preparing a case, well, of course, a certain amount of paperwork will go into any case: there has to be evidence. Sometimes I think there is a disconnect between what the police want to provide to us and what we need to put a case successfully through the criminal justice system. The police see a successful outcome as a charge, but for us as prosecutors the charge is actually just the beginning of the process. It is the beginning of the journey through the criminal justice system—hopefully to a successful outcome. It is our job to make sure that cases, when they come in, are as strong as they can be so that we can give any sentencing judge, whether that be a judge at the Crown court or a magistrate or district judge in the magistrates court, all the facts and all the evidence so that they understand the effect of the criminality on the victim and we can seek a justice outcome.

I absolutely agree with you: I don’t agree with the idea that low-level crime has no effect on individuals. Actually, if you look at the evidence and the academic studies, low-level abusive behaviour that is continual in local communities has the ability really to demoralise local communities and really affects the standard of living and the enjoyment of people in those areas. Of course, serious crime can have catastrophic effects, but luckily, serious crime is still relatively rare in this country. I agree with you that we shouldn’t be saying, “Oh, this is just low-level crime.” All crime has a corrosive effect on the victim of the crime, and we need to make sure that a proper priority is given to all of it. At the moment, unfortunately, the amount of cases being referred to us is dropping. We need to look at that and deal with it.

Q286       Paula Barker: I will concentrate on rape. I was interested in what you said about more serious cases engaging specialist advice early on. I was looking at some information—performance data—published by the CPS in July last year. Max Hill and Chief Constable Sarah Crew talked about more close, joint working at the start of a rape investigation leading to the best possible outcomes for all cases.

I note that Operation Soteria was described as an ambitious work programme to test new ways of working to transform how CPS and the police handled rape investigations and prosecutions, centring on the conduct of the suspect and not of the victim. I also note that that was already in action in five police forces across the country, and it is being rolled out to a further 14 areas, to be completed by March 2023—it is 1 March today.

Can you give us some information about what the success rate has been in those first five areas? Where you are up to in the roll-out to the other 14 areas? Is there any data at all to demonstrate that the outcomes are better for women? I think you would agree with us that the statistics for rape and rape convictions are an incredibly sad indictment of our society, and that is failing women.

Baljit Ubhey: I definitely agree that there is a real public-confidence crisis in this area. That is why we launched our five-year strategy: to narrow that gap between report and cases coming into the system. Operation Soteria is the key part of that, and I will come on to it, but it is important to recognise that the joint improvement work on improving the prosecution team response pre-dated that.

With the rape lead, Sarah Crew, we launched our joint national action plan in 2021. A lot of the deliverables in that plan were looking at early partnership working, testing different models of early advice. For the CPS, that meant us looking at the resourcing within our units, because if we are going to provide more early advice, that is an additional resource for the CPS—that is lawyers not doing other things—and we looked at how we engage with specialist support services, developing an ISVA framework. If we get right that triangle between specialist officer, specialist prosecutor and the ISVA support service wrapped around the victim, that is a really good model for helping victims. That is critical. We know, because of the backlogs in the Crown courts, that those cases will take longer. There is no getting away from that, so how victims are supported is key.

That joint national action plan led to a lot of improvement activity. We then developed the Operation Soteria model, so we are seeing real improvements across a range of different areas, some Soteria and some not. Just to give you some headline figures, since we launched the action plan we have seen a 69% increase in referrals for adult rape cases and an 86% increase in charge volumes—since January 2021.

It is not just the volumes that are important; what is also important is those working relationships. In those areas where there is a focus on joint working, we are seeing better relationships. What we know from previous joint inspections is that relationships at the frontline had really broken down—some would say they had become toxic. What we are seeing now, in some areas, where there is a real focus on this, is an improving picture.

When those relationships improve, what happens is that people have a better understanding of roles and responsibilities. Some of the concerns are around the police thinking that the bar is too high and that we are asking too much are often as a result of a lack of understanding. What we are seeing is greater alignment and understanding, and better outcomes.

We are even getting feedback. We had a conference last year where we had 250 police officers, prosecutors and specialist support services. What we were hearing from some of those support services was how police and CPS working better together and working better with them is really making the difference for victims. So, yes, we are getting more cases into the system, but I think we are also improving the quality of the relationships.

The national operating model—the police will have their model, and we will have ours, and they will align to each other. The models will be ready for roll-out in June of this year and then obviously we will be looking at implementation. We are testing and learning different approaches at the moment and there will be a full evaluation, and then that evaluation will determine what that baseline model looks like, in June of this year.

Q287       Paula Barker: We have seen some incredibly high-profile cases over the last 12 months or so, such as the Sarah Everard case and others, where police officers have quite frankly been disrespectful to the badge they wear and have done everything to undermine public confidence in the police, particularly for women. What impact do you think that is going to have on rape cases going forward?

Baljit Ubhey: High-profile cases that receive significant media attention are undoubtedly going to have an impact on public confidence. That is why it is really important that we talk about the good work that we are doing, and that we talk about the leadership that has been demonstrated both nationally and locally on improving the picture. It is important that we make sure that the public know about that as well. The last thing we want is people thinking, “I don’t want to report this because I don’t trust the authorities to deal with this properly.”

It is a challenge. I am confident that the work that we are doing in prosecuting and investigating rape and serious sexual offences is an improving picture. We are not complacent. We are not saying we’ve cracked it. There is absolutely more for us to do and more for us to learn, but I do think it gives us a model for thinking about how we deal with other public protection areas of work, such as domestic abuse.

Gregor McGill: Can I just add to that? There have been some high-profile cases and the police will have to deal with the fallout of that, and I am not seeking to minimise those, but I do think that we have to remember that every day there are thousands and thousands of very good police officers going around doing a very difficult job and doing it well. Not every police officer is a bad police officer. There are lots of them out there doing a very good job. But there is a perception problem at the moment. As Baljit has said, we have to work together and provide the evidence to actually show that when we work together, we can do very good things.

Q288       Paula Barker: I completely accept that, Mr McGill; that is something that the Committee has acknowledged over the course of the inquiry.

We have heard a lot about partnership working and how the CPS wishes to improve, but the fact still remains that rape conviction rates are at an all-time low. My plea—I am sure other colleagues on the Committee would echo this—is that we must not just sit and talk about partnership working and all those other important things. The outputs and the conviction rates must improve for women who have been subjected to the most abhorrent crime. I think there is a huge mountain for the CPS to climb.

Baljit Ubhey: I don’t disagree with that, but look at the key performance indicators. On whether cases are being referred to us, we have seen a significant increase—69%—since 2021. On whether we are charging more cases, there has been a significant increase. As I said earlier, our charge rate is high, and we are seeing more successful outcomes.

The challenge that you will find in our performance data, which we publish quarterly, is that conviction data will obviously only come through when cases are finalised. Because of the backlogs, we are seeing fewer of those cases being finalised, so there will be a time lag. The key metrics are whether more cases are being referred and whether we are charging more. Our improvement activity is very much about taking an offender-centric approach and looking at myths and stereotypes so that we are taking a really proactive approach to how we prosecute these cases when we get to court.

Q289       Carolyn Harris: Very often, people with mental health or addiction problems—very often, one leads to the other—report crimes. They may be known to the police and the CPS, and they may not be considered credible witnesses because of their history. I speak to many women—it is normally women—who have been victims of prostitution and are regularly raped, but never, ever report it because they feel that because of their perceived occupation they are not taken seriously. To what extent are that person’s character or vulnerabilities stopping cases progressing?

Baljit Ubhey: We have absolutely prosecuted cases where the victims are prostitutes. We absolutely prosecute a range of cases where victims have vulnerabilities of all types.

Our guidance is really clear. Again, part of our strategy was revamping our legal guidance and revisiting the myths and stereotypes to bring them up to date. We worked very closely with a lot of third sector agencies in developing that guidance so we could understand what the new myths and stereotypes are. Our prosecutors have clear guidance—both legal guidance and in their training—that says that people are targeted because of their vulnerabilities, so that should not be seen as a credibility issue.

That is what the offender-centric approach is all about. Are we getting that right 100% of the time? I am sure there are cases where we could do better, but in terms of our organisational approach, it is absolutely vital that we are providing those who are the most vulnerable and likely to be targeted with the best possible support and protection.

Q290       Carolyn Harris: How is that message filtering through to those victims? As I said, I often have conversations with women who say that they don’t even bother to report because previously they have reported something and it was completely ignored. The people who need to hear that message are not hearing it, so how are you going to do that?

Baljit Ubhey: Obviously, when we publish products, we do a lot of engagement with specialist organisations, and we share information with them. The way through this is with those local relationships with the local specialist services. That is why the ISVA framework that we developed as a model of best practice, in terms of partnership engagement between the police, the CPS and specialist services, is really critical. That is how you get the word out locally that actually the CPS are interested, the police do care, and we will take this case seriously. Again, it is about this partnership engagement. The partnership engagement is not just the police and the CPS. In the modern world that we live in, it is more complex than that. It also has to be with specialist support services that can really get the word out.

Q291       Carolyn Harris: Is the case outcome better where there is a local specialist rape team, for example? We know that rape is used as a mechanism for control, so it doesn’t always have to be somebody having been raped by someone they don’t know. Very often, the victim will be raped by their husband or their partner as a controlling mechanism. That is a very different case from somebody who has been chased and raped on the streets. Where there is a specialist team, does that mean the chances of a successful outcome are better than if there is no local specialist service?

Baljit Ubhey: We do not have any data on that. There is no way we could track that. But what we do know anecdotally is that where we have good specialist support services locally, they can really help keep a victim on board and help victims be confident. If they have good links into the CPS, they feel that they can ask questions about things they do not know, such as talking about what special measures may be available to give evidence. If there is really good engagement, it is probably reasonable to assume that a victim will have a better experience than if those services are not in play or are not working effectively with the local CPS and the police.

On your point about rape in an intimate partner relationship, absolutely. That is why a specific strand of work in our newly refreshed joint action plan with the police is looking at domestic abuse and the interplay between domestic abuse and serious sexual violence. That will be a programme of work that we will take forward, because we think there is more for us to learn and understand and more questions to ask. I think this applies more broadly with domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. I think we are at the foothills of really understanding how that dynamic works and how we can better understand that dynamic and use it as evidence in such cases.

Gregor McGill: I do not have much to add to what Baljit has said. What I would say, of course, is that Baljit is right that there are no data or academic studies to back this up. However, remember that the criminal justice system is an adversarial process, and it can be quite unpleasant for victims, so common sense tells us that the more support we build around victims, the better communication there is with victims, and the more we help them through the process, the better the outcomes will be.

Q292       Chair: I think we know that there are real problems in getting access to an ISVA at times, and that there are shortages around the country.

Gregor McGill: It is patchy around the country.

Q293       James Daly: Baljit, you quoted one figure, which was an 69% increase. Was that in rape cases referred to the CPS?

Baljit Ubhey: Yes, adult rape cases that were referred to the CPS.

Q294       James Daly: And that is viewed as a success.

Baljit Ubhey: I think what I said was that we are not complacent about where we are, but we are pleased that the work that we are doing is leading to an improvement.

Q295       James Daly: If you put it in context, it is not a success in the slightest, because charging rates have fallen particularly sharply for RASSO cases. Between 2014-15 and 2021-22, the charge rate for sexual offences, including rape, fell from 11.3% to 2.9%. Do you recognise those figures?

Baljit Ubhey: I think you are talking about from report, and obviously we can—

Q296       James Daly: I am talking about the charge rate. Let us be very specific about this. We are talking about the relationship between the police and the CPS. The figure that nobody ever talks about is the charge rate. Forget the conviction rate, it is the charge rate. Can you tell me what the most up-to-date charge rate you have for rape offences in this country?

Gregor McGill: I think the Solicitor General appeared in front of the Justice Committee recently and said it was 72%.

Q297       James Daly: The charge rate?

Gregor McGill: The charge rate of cases referred to the CPS.

Q298       James Daly: That is not the question I am asking. I am asking you about the complete charge rate for the total number of rape allegations made to the police.

Gregor McGill: With respect, Sir, we are a demand-led organisation. We can only deal with the cases that are referred to us by the police.

Q299       James Daly: You do know that the vast majority of rape cases are not referred to the police. That is correct, isn’t it?

Gregor McGill: Well—

James Daly: You do know, Mr McGill. That is the case, isn’t it?

Gregor McGill: I do not know what the specifics are. I do know that there are a number of cases referred to the police that do not come anywhere near the CPS.

Q300       James Daly: Mr McGill, are you giving evidence to this Committee that you do not know that the vast majority of rape cases in this country are not referred to the CPS at all? You don’t know that fact?

Gregor McGill: No, I am saying that I know that the vast amount of cases are referred, but only a proportion of those are referred to the CPS. That is the evidence I am giving to the Committee.

Q301       James Daly: The point I am making here is that the charge-out rate relates to the total number of cases reported by victims throughout this country, and that goes into the thousands—around 70,000, I think. When we are talking about the numbers, and when you’re talking about an increase, we are talking about a phenomenally small number. The charge-out rate for rape in this country is between 2% and 2.9%, so that means that the vast majority of people who have the courage to make an allegation of rape to the police do not get anywhere near justice. There is no success in respect of this. It is a national scandal.

My point is that the relationship between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police has to play to some part in that. If it doesn’t, it is the police’s fault. If the CPS is doing what is required of it, I cannot think of a reason why the police would not refer these cases to you. Do you agree with that?

Baljit Ubhey: What we have seen is an improvement in the number of cases that are being referred. I take your point that the scale of the number of reports versus how many come into the system is still a very depressing figure. I know that the academics who are leading the work on Operation Soteria are looking at this issue.

Again, I do not understand the breakdown of the things that do not come to us, and that is something obviously for policing, but I do understand that some of those reports are to third parties, and they are not a report to drive an investigation. There does need to be some disaggregation of the total number of reports, but we absolutely want to see an increase in referrals coming through to the CPS.

Q302       James Daly: Why do you feel the police are not referring more cases of rape allegations to you—the vast, vast majority? You have worked in the sector for a long time, as have I. What is the reason?

Baljit Ubhey: It is a difficult one for us to answer. We have actually put so much energy into this and said, “Come to us early, come to us for early advice, we want to build strong cases,” and we are seeing that happening. Again, there is variation, but it is really hard for me to answer the reasons why even more cases are not coming through to the CPS.

Q303       James Daly: The only thing we can take from this is that the treatment of female victims—and some male victims, but mainly female—is misogyny at its highest. There is no other explanation; there is no other logical or intellectual explanation as to why approximately 90% of cases do not get referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. We do a disservice to this whole debate by talking about an increase in referrals of 69%, which is such a small number. It is a minuscule number compared to the problem.

Ms Harris is absolutely right. If you are a person who has a drug addiction or mental health problems or comes from a deprived background, you have no chance of getting justice in this country—none. I have been on this Committee and the Justice Committee for a long time, and the same old excuse come time and time again: “We are going to form this Committee,” or “We are doing this,” or “We have got these little improvements.” There are no improvements: the system is letting people down.

Until that charge rate, at the minimum, gets back to what was happening in 2015 for sexual offences, it is a national disgrace. Nobody but nobody will hold up and accept responsibility for that. In 2015, there were still the same things about austerity and all the other things, but something has happened where the system is letting victims down. Everything we have heard today just confirms to me that that will continue to happen. It is utterly, utterly scandalous. Is there anything you can say to disagree with that?

Baljit Ubhey: I do not disagree with much of what you have said there. I do not agree or accept that people with vulnerabilities do not get taken seriously by the system. I do not think that even in 2015, the figures for all those cases that get reported were being referred into the system. Based on our current statistics, we are confident that our volumes are likely to be back to 2016 levels by next year, but that is still a drop in the ocean. I accept that of the large number of cases that get reported, a fraction get referred to us; more needs to be done to understand that. We would like to see more cases come into the system.

Q304       James Daly: I have a final question on the lack of police referrals. You and Mr McGill are very senior people in the Crown Prosecution Service. Have you asked any police officer directly, “Why are you not referring more rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service?”

Baljit Ubhey: I suppose the whole programme of work that I discussed earlier is about—

James Daly: Have you asked them directly yourself?

Baljit Ubhey: We have absolutely asked why the referrals are lower. We look at geographical data as well.

Q305       James Daly: What was the answer, when you asked that question?

Baljit Ubhey: It is not a one-off question that we have asked. This is an ongoing discussion with policing around performance. We have said that there should be joint operational improvement meetings at a local level that are focused on rape cases; that is happening. It is for the local leadership to discuss what is happening in different forces. Even a national lead cannot say what is happening up and down the country, so I think this is an oversimplification.

Q306       Chair: We understand that there are still police forces that do not have specialist RASSO units. Why is that?

Gregor McGill: I cannot answer that.

Q307       Chair: Do you think that is wrong? It seems so to us, given all the evidence we have heard and what you have said about specialisms being so important. Even though we are in this dire situation, as Mr Daly has just been eloquently putting to the Committee, why do police forces not have RASSO units? I still do not understand.

Gregor McGill: It is an operational decision.

Q308       Chair: I understand that, but why would any chief constable think it was sensible not to have a RASSO?

Gregor McGill: I do not know. All the evidence shows that if you have specialist investigators and specialist prosecutors working together, you get better results. That is right.

Can I just deal with one aspect of what Mr Daly said? You asked what conversations we have. I know that our chief Crown prosecutors, a number of whom report to me, have regular conversations with their chief constables. They have what is known as “no further action” panels. Our prosecutors go and work with police units, and look at instances where the police have decided not to refer cases to us. We examine those cases, and see whether they can be built and referred to us. In some cases, we have had a great deal of success.

I accept that it is a drop in the ocean, but we can only do what we can do, and we are working with the police to build a better system. It will take time, but the early evidence from Soteria indicates that where we work with the police well we are getting good results, but we cannot turn this around overnight.

Q309       Chair: We have nearly completed our time for this panel, but I want to ask one last question. We are about the speak to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The interim protocol set up between the police and the CPS during the covid-19 pandemic to prioritise domestic abuse cases has been lifted. Will you comment on that, because obviously the volume of domestic abuse cases is not reducing at all?

Gregor McGill: The interim protocol during covid was, by its very nature, interim. We have rolled out a new charging model. We use a red channel and a green channel. The red channel is for high-harm, high-risk cases, where someone appears in custody; there is something in place to deal with high-harm, high risk domestic abuse. We also have a green priority channel, which expedites cases of domestic abuse where the alleged perpetrator is not in custody. We have rolled out that charging model across six forces currently, and will roll it out across the whole country. The average time for making charging decisions in those cases is 15 days.

Q310       Chair: Very finally, do you think the police should have more charging powers?

Gregor McGill: I do not think the evidence supports that at the moment, Chair. I say that for the following reasons. Currently, the police can charge 65% of cases that come into the criminal justice system. We know that, of those cases that they can charge, the number of referrals they are making to us are falling, so we are getting less and less cases from them of those cases that they can charge. If they are not charging the cases that they can charge, what evidence is there to suggest that they will charge more of the cases if they are given more charging authority? I would say there is no logical evidence to support that.

It is also about looking at the quality. We talked about the police file data: it ranges from 37% up to 82%. If the police are able to charge without any effective oversight—to, in effect, mark their own homework—it is probable that, say we take the example of the 37% in the Met, more than 60% of the cases that went into the system and came to us would be discontinued or would suffer attrition through the system. That is not good for the system, the police or us, and it is certainly not good for the victims. It is not good for the criminal justice system, because it undermines, further, confidence in the criminal justice system.

Chair: I think you have  put your case very well.

Baljit Ubhey: Can I add one more point? The police themselves talk about mission creep—they have too many things to do—and acknowledge their inexperience, so how would giving them additional charging powers help with the things that they themselves have already identified as problems?

Chair: I thank you both for coming along this morning. You have had some quite robust questioning; we obviously care about these issues very much. We will write our report in due course. Thank you very much for attending this morning.

Gregor McGill: We are both lawyers: we exist in an adversarial system.

Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Nicole Jacobs and Jessica Eagelton.

Q311       Chair: Good morning and welcome to our second panel. We are very pleased to see you both. Will you please introduce yourselves?

Nicole Jacobs: Good morning, it is great to be here and thanks for inviting me. I am Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.

Jessica Eagelton: Good morning and thank you for having me. My name is Jessica Eagelton, the policy and public affairs manager at Refuge. We are the largest specialist provider of domestic abuse services in this country.

Q312       Chair: Thank you. I would like to start with an overview of how you think victims and survivors are currently being served by policing and the criminal justice system. What are your big concerns and the challenges that you think we need to know about? Nicole, would you like to start?

Nicole Jacobs: I would say much of what you just heard. There is the lack of consistency, so we do not have a sense, from place to place, exactly what you would expect of the criminal justice response. You have huge volumes of domestic abuse, and the police take differing notions about how much of that proportion really should be part of what they do. The implication of that is so wide and varying.

I tend to think of this in three categories. First, what is the role of police in prevention work? That work is obviously as a partner—they are not necessarily expected to drive that—but we have a serious violence prevention duty. There is a lot to unpick in respect of the very first response that the police have with a victim and how that is addressed properly and not dismissed, pushed to one side or diverted.

Then you have the whole raft of what we might call high-harm perpetrators—people who are well known to the system as offenders—and the lack of oversight and grip and really focused police resourcing there. That variation causes lots of problems.

Secondly, I work closely with the panel members who were just here, but one of the things that is missing from the conversation—it came up towards the end, thanks to some of Carolyn’s questioning—is how we provide support from domestic abuse services and their role in helping to make systems accountable. If you think of the very confusing, highly stressful first point of contact with the police, the best way you could improve that for the victim is to make sure they have an independent advocate who is supporting them on criminal justice work and the whole range of concerns they will have.

One common misunderstanding is that these services are a shoulder to cry on that are helping out a bit. They do that, but they will also be the first to say to the police, “Wait a minute—this isn’t good enough. You haven’t heard what this victim is trying to say to you. I’ve now had a couple of days working with this victim, and they want to tell you more. This needs to be taken seriously.” We do not recognise their advocacy role in getting systems to work and having greater accountability, so we need to see that.

The third is a huge concern, which is a lack of confidence because of the cases you have heard about and, more than that—I appreciate it is a small percentage—those police who have perpetrated domestic abuse or have misconduct allegations against them and are allowed to stay in the force. They are policing domestic abuse every day, so it is not just the harm they have done to their own partner or ex-partner; it is the fact that that is their core business. I find it horrifying to think of a character like David Carrick or anyone else who is perpetrating domestic abuse showing up to those victims as the very entity that is meant to be investigating and taking those issues forward. We have huge issues, and I will defer to the very advocate I was just mentioning.

Jessica Eagelton: I agree with a lot of what Nicole said, particularly on specialist services and the role they play. We see good practice in the policing of domestic abuse in police forces that have really strong links with their local specialist domestic abuse and violence against women and girls support services. I agree on some of the challenges we are facing around the first line of responders—the first people who a domestic abuse survivor talks to. We still see some victim-blaming language. We still have officers rolling their eyes when people come in to report domestic abuse. Those sorts of things continue.

An ongoing challenge for survivors of domestic abuse is that there is often a lack of communication from the police on their cases. They are not getting updates on investigations, and we particularly see this around bail conditions, with survivors not being informed when a perpetrator has been released on bail or when there have been changes to the perpetrator’s bail conditions. That is incredibly distressing for them. They see their cases being handed around to different police officers. Even some of our staff cannot get in contact with police officers when they are advocating for survivors, so they have been told to sit on the phone to 101 for long periods of time to try to track down the right police officer to speak to. That lack of communication is a real challenge.

An underlying point in this is the training that officers receive. We heard from the last panel about the new officers coming in who are younger and more junior. It is really important to ensure that they have in-depth, trauma-informed training in violence against women and girls that allows them to support survivors in the best way and understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG.

Chair: Thank you; that is very helpful.

Q313       Carolyn Harris: It is lovely to see you both. This is the same question that I put to the last panel about people with vulnerabilities. How well do you think the police are dealing with, and how seriously are they taking, suggestions of rape from people with a history of mental health and drug abuse issues?

Jessica Eagelton: There does need to be improvement in this. For example, some reports have come out recently on the Home Secretary directing forces not to attend to as many mental health crises and those kinds of call-out. My concern with that is the very high rate of mental health problems among survivors of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.

For example, they could be presenting as in a mental health crisis, but beneath that there are issues of experiencing or continuing to experience domestic abuse. Just last week, some research by our colleagues at the Agenda Alliance showed that domestic abuse survivors are three times as likely to try to commit suicide. I therefore have some concerns, and I want to make sure that officers are peeling back the layers of such cases, which I understand can be difficult, given that resources are stretched, but I think it is important that officers look into these things in a bit more detail, and do not just view them simply in black and white.

Nicole Jacobs: That is exactly right. I would say, “Quite variably”, is the bottom-line answer. That is the consistent theme through all the evidence. There may be excellent examples in forces—I come across some fantastic examples—but the consistent issue in every force probably is what you touched on with the earlier panel, which is the lack of experience and training on the frontline. It is all very well getting to the great, excellent, well-trained specialist, which is perhaps the best-case scenario for some of those cases, but so many things have to happen before that would ever be the case. The vulnerable victim has to be understood properly by the very first person they come into contact with. It is increasingly likely that that could go wrong, because of lack of training and officers new to the role and not properly trained.

I tend to be quite proactive, and I do not want to take a hugely negative approach. Recently, I had some roundtables, just in the London area, where I asked domestic abuse services—Refuge and others—“Tell me who your best officers are? Who do you trust the most? Let’s get them in a room to see what they have to say about their policing and how they got to achieve this level of confidence.” One of the things they spoke about was that they had never been told what the services in their local area were. It had taken them a long time to understand that Refuge works in X many boroughs in London, what they do and how they help. It was only when they could describe being co-located and in a genuine partnership that the penny dropped, so that they could bring the best of that resource in and get to the bottom of what victims needed, which might or might not be a criminal justice response. It is about that satisfaction with the right police officers who feel like they are doing their very best.

The other thing spoken about was trauma-informed training. When people hear that, they think many different things: “What is that?” or “Is that really needed?” But one thing those officers said they wanted to know more about, almost to the very last one, was, “I wish I could sit at Refuge’s office or the domestic abuse services office, because then I could see how they get victims to disclose, trust and tell them.” It is about that skillset—being able to do that. Some of that will always be a barrier, because police officers cannot get away from the fact that they are police officers, given notions of what that might mean, but they talked about the skill of doing that.

These are the things that we have to take seriously and invest in if we want a chance to get that right with victims. As we talked about earlier, it takes a lot of hoops to get to prosecution and the role of the CPS. There is so much that we are missing. I feel that we give lip service to the idea of the partnership work, but we don’t take it seriously. We are not funding domestic abuse services consistently. We don’t have an expectation—this is what I believe needs to happen—of what professional development those services need to have in interacting with the police. That will vary from place to place. What should that expectation be between those services and the police that would create a lot more accountability and amplification of the problems that are happening and what you need to grapple with as leaders in local forces? We need to take much more of that seriously.

Q314       Carolyn Harris: Thank you, Nicole. When someone is vulnerable—when they have addiction problems and mental health issues—very often they will be, as I said earlier, victims of prostitution or people who may be touching on criminality because of their condition. Many of them tell me that they are afraid to report because there is more likelihood that they will be questioned about shoplifting or some other offence rather than about the reason why they should be looked after, which is that they have been victims of rape. How prevalent is it that victims will not come forward because they are afraid of ending up in the criminal justice system themselves for a different offence?

Jessica Eagelton: I am not aware of any specific statistics on that, but we know that only one in five survivors of domestic abuse report to the police. That is for a whole host of problems, and it may very well include concerns about being charged for offences that they may have been coerced into, for example, or that they have acted in retaliation in a domestic abuse situation. We know of some cases where survivors of domestic abuse have been arrested. As I said, that could be because they have been coerced into offences. Quite often they are much pettier offences than that which the alleged perpetrator is being investigated for.

We see quite a mixed response to that. Sometimes we see officers who seem to get the power dynamics in that situation. They understand the power and control that is at play there; even though they are investigating both, they understand that the domestic abuse is a much more serious crime. What we also see, though, is that in quite a lot of instances, officers are not understanding that, and they see it as a mutual fight when it is not. There is a very unbalanced power dynamic. Our frontline staff have also said that it is not uncommon in that situation for the woman—the survivor of rape or sexual assault or domestic abuse—to confess to the crime if it is petty criminal damage or something like that, because they are not the manipulator in that situation, and quite often they will not have a solicitor or legal support in those situations. Those are some of the themes that we are seeing. Do you have anything to add, Nicole?

Nicole Jacobs: I think that is very true. There are good practices out there—women’s centres or specialist advocates in custody suites picking up. There are a lot of non-custodial sentences for female offenders. That is not common everywhere, but it is becoming much more frequent from place to place, and that is because of the research that shows absolutely clearly the link between previous violence, violence against women and girls and offending. Some of the amendments failed, sadly, in the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, but I am still a strong proponent of having legal remedies that are much more cognisant of reflecting that link between female offending and previous violence towards them, and the coercion and control.

I would also say—I say this over and over—that there are barriers that the perpetrator will exploit: “If you tell the police, this is what will happen; you will get children removed.” The list is very long. I would also add—

Chair: Can I stop you there? Sorry to interrupt. I am conscious that Marco Longhi has to leave shortly. I will come back to what you are saying. I just want to make sure he is able to get his questions in before he has to leave.

Q315       Marco Longhi: That is very kind of you, Chair; thank you very much. This might be a tad too simplistic, but what we saw with Couzens, Carrick and some other person who came after that is evidence of systemic failure within the police force—all police forces. We have talked today about specialisations and about the inexperience of police officers; of course, Couzens and Carrick were very experienced police officers. What is your advice to us? I am very interested in the point you make about the first contact. I think getting that right is absolutely crucial. If, in the short to medium term, that means the ability to provide an advocate with the victim so that everything that needs to be said is said and everything that needs to be done is done—I was recently made aware of a case. Someone came to me and said that the police had said, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you all the advice you need”—of course, as a victim, you are vulnerable and you take the advice from the police—but DNA evidence was not taken, and that was exactly what the court needed. That is just one example—you have probably heard many thousands—of where the system just isn’t working. What is your advice to us as Members of Parliament? What can we try to get right, at least in the short term? Systemic failures are a very different kettle of fish to sort out, but I am thinking about the victims of today, tomorrow and the next few years, before we try to cure the system.

Jessica Eagelton: If we are talking about cases involving police-perpetrated domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, we are all united in horror at those cases—to think that Carrick could, for 20 years, get away with these heinous crimes and was not even suspended when he was arrested for rape. As you say, that is having an impact on women’s confidence in the criminal justice system, as was discussed by the last panel. Something that we would really like to see in the short term is mandatory suspension of police officers where there are allegations of violence against women and girls. We believe that, as a minimum, that should be brought in. I know that the Home Secretary is looking at reviewing police dismissals, following evidence from Sir Mark Rowley, the Met Commissioner, that he finds it difficult to get rid of officers who fall short of standards in office. We would really like to see that work fast-tracked, and any changes to legislation around vetting to be brought in.

Those are a couple of the more immediate, short-term points, but I would also go back to the point I made earlier about training. It sounds like a bit of a buzzword, sometimes, for officers, but I think having regular, consistent training on violence against women and girls is really important for getting those first responses right.

Nicole Jacobs: I would love to see greater consistency in the public domain on what forces are doing. For example, on police-perpetrated abuse, we had the NPCC, at the end of January, give us a report—we can all read it—about how forces are doing in reaction to the super-complaint about police-perpetrated domestic abuse, but we cannot read that report and know what each force is doing. It kind of melds forces into one; it says, “We are making a lot of progress. Here are some good examples from forces.” One of the things I would really like to see is a very clear set of data, force by force, showing exactly what they have done. I am confident that there is probably a lot of activity happening, but I think the only way to reinstate or work towards more public trust, and particularly trust of victims, is to have this type of information in the public domain and to have a grip on some of these things that we want to see in each force. That is just one example; there would be others.

I know that is the role of police and crime commissioners, but there is nothing bringing all of that together to give us a clear picture across forces, and I think that would be a huge step forward. I also think the ministerial role, alongside police and crime commissioners, to hold forces to account—there used to be an inter-ministerial group, which really kept a grip of some of these things, but that has not been happening. We need to see that—just a very clear, “Let’s pick. What are our priorities right now?” That will start working towards building trust and building more accountability. As the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I don’t see force-by-force data, and I also don’t see any end-to-end data—point of report all the way through to conviction—because it is impossible to get to that. Those are my first thoughts.

Q316       Chair: On that data point, have you requested that information and not been able to get it, or is it just not available to anybody?

Nicole Jacobs: It is just not available. There is lots of data floating around the system, reporting all the way through, but there is nothing that can track Nicole Jacobs through from the police to the CPS. The numbers in the recording are mismatched, essentially. There is nothing that gives that information end to end for an individual. Then we can’t disaggregate—we don’t know about older victims, disabled victims, black or minoritised victims. All the things that we would want to know to have clear accountability just simply do not exist, because you don’t have that read-through. And forces count things a bit differently; there is a lot of variation that makes it quite difficult.

Q317       James Daly: I will ask a very simplistic question to start off with. The figures for the year up to June 2022 show that the police recorded 70,600 offences of rape. The charge rate is about 2.9% for rape, from that 70,600 figure. Obviously, you have both done a lot of work in this area. In terms of the police report, in very simplistic terms, that means that somebody has gone into the police and said, “I have been attacked.”

Jessica Eagelton: That is my understanding, yes.

Q318       James Daly: Absolutely. So we have the starting point. The police have engagement from 70,600 people in a year saying, “I have been attacked.” But only 2.9% of those 70,600 are believed sufficiently to actually get to the point of charge. That is not conviction—that is charge.

There was a report on the CPS’s response to rape that concluded in February 2022, which said that rape victims were being failed. Vera Baird made some very telling comments. It seems to me that we have come to a unique situation in the criminal justice system where the person who is making the complaint is the person who is being investigated, rather than the person the allegation is being made against. Would you share that viewpoint? Is that accurate?

Jessica Eagelton: That can happen in some cases. I think the response that survivors get from the police can be so victim-blaming in some ways that it definitely feels that they are the ones being investigated. We particularly see this with digital downloads, where the police request the victim’s phone and take huge amounts of data—disproportionate amounts of data—that are not really relevant to building an evidence-led case. We are pleased that the Government have now moved on that, but previously we have seen survivors of rape and serious sexual assault telling us that they have experienced that, and it just feels like a fishing exercise from the police, to test their credibility as a victim.

Q319       James Daly: I think you are absolutely bang on the money there. Nicole and I have spoken about this a few times in various Committees. I think that what we have with the criminal justice system, and what has developed, is an approach to rape investigations and prosecutions where, unless it is 100% certain in somebody’s mind—I use the phrase “slam-dunk prosecution”—that we are going to get a conviction, then it is highly unlikely that someone is going to get charged. By the very nature of these complaints, they are nuanced; they involve all sorts of personal issues. They are not straightforward complaints.

I note what you say about how the police can hopefully be assisted to understand that and to understand these matters in a far more appropriate way. I am afraid to say—I don’t expect you to agree with this—that I don’t think the police, internally, have the capacity to change this around. I don’t think they have either the skillset or the in-built correct attitude, if that is the correct word, to address the concerns, and therefore we have got to look at third-party domestic violence services supporting them.

Nicole Jacobs: I would agree. Just to reinforce your point about rape cases specifically, Operation Soteria has been an amazing opportunity, where you have academics coming in, scrutinising files and really bringing out huge amounts of learning that echo exactly what you have just said: police being victim-focused instead of perpetrator-focused. I mean, it is all there right in front of them; it is undeniable. They have inexperienced officers looking at these cases—which is actually quite traumatising for the officers, too. That is some of what is coming out. From start to finish, Operation Soteria is showing how we have not been taking any kind of realistic approach to any of these cases for far too long.

As much as I do not want to let the police off the hook for what I think is a toleration for inconsistencies and a lack of joined-up working—things they could address without any direction from us—I would say that police have to be supported. I used to work in Refuge as a frontline worker, and I have had really excellent relationships with the police, in partnership. But in this role, what I see is: you get a new domestic abuse offence—there is so much where the police are not supported to be able to do well.

Q320       James Daly: Nicole, thankfully you are a far nicer person than me, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that if approximately 90% of rape cases are not referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, that is a fundamental failure of the system. It is no good people round here saying, “There’re some nice police officers somewhere. We can always say, about everything, that there is some great practice; fundamentally, there isn’t here, for the vast majority of victims.

I don’t think the CPS is going to help with this idea of partnership working. I was a criminal solicitor 20 years ago and we were talking about partnership working then. It is not like somebody had a lightbulb moment and said, “Let’s work together.” Imagine this: the police actually coming before a Select Committee of Parliament and saying, “I know—what we’ll do is actually work more closely together in the criminal justice system.” I’m afraid that thought had occurred to people 20 years ago, and nothing happened in the intervening period to improve the situation.

We do not have time to discuss everything—whether it is ISVAs or whatever—but you made the point about how important those third-party domestic violence support services are in helping with this solution and achieving better outcomes. If we can find a way to better fund those and better think about the scope of those services, to make sure they are as close as possible to the police and the criminal justice system, that is one way that we can achieve much better outcomes.

Nicole Jacobs: You and I are very aligned in our thinking about that, because, having been in those roles, I know that when that works well you have a lot of accountability. For example, when I say I have had good experiences of partnership working, if something went wrong, I could try to fix it with the officer in charge or, if that did not work, I knew exactly who I could go to and who my boss could go to—in other words, that genuine accountability. But I am afraid that what happens so often with criminal justice initiatives is that this partnership is kind of glossed over, and the advocates who are talking to the victim and have a victim-centric drive and approach are the ones who get excluded from sitting at the table at the criminal justice board.

Those kinds of real accountability, where you could speak to most senior officers or prosecutors, can happen, and there is no reason we can’t shape, for example, elements of the Victims Bill to do that in defining the IDVA role, because that is on the table and in the draft Bill, if there is a legislative slot for it—we don’t know yet. Also in that Bill is a duty to collaborate for funding. That is the most obvious opportunity right in front of us to get some definition and get that right. I would also say that I hope my mapping will come in handy, because it shows evidence that when you get these advocates involved—especially if they have more buy-in and are more specialised—you see a measurable difference for victims. We were able to compare people who didn’t have that support with people who did. That is very effective.

Q321       Tim Loughton: I think you were sitting in the earlier session when you heard the response from the CPS about the experience or inexperience of police officers. The figure that is often quoted to us is that 38% of police officers will have had less than five years’ experience by next year. What is your take on that? Is the situation going to become even worse because you have inexperienced police officers who are perhaps less sensitive to the sensibilities around sexual abuse cases, which, more than most, need handling sensitively? Do you think this is an opportunity, given that there is something of a clear-out going on, particularly within the Met, where misogynistic views seem to have been perpetuated for rather too long? Are the new officers coming in going to have a new mindset and be rather wiser about how to deal with these cases? How do we solve this?

Jessica Eagelton: The 20,000 officer uplift is often pointed to as a method for improving the police’s capability, particularly around policing violence against women and girls. On a good day, I am optimistic about those new officers coming in, as it is perhaps a chance to refresh some of the thinking that has been in place in many police forces—particularly this culture of misogyny that we have been hearing exists in many places. That will work only if there are systems in place that enable those officers to be the best they can be.

I was talking about training, but we should also think about whistleblowing guidance and protection for whistleblowers within the police. If there is a new junior officer who comes in and sees a senior officer who has been there for many years engaging in misconduct, we must ensure that they know that they will be supported if they whistleblow and report that behaviour. That is really important. I will be optimistic if there are those structures in place, but I know that this is also about resourcing for the police. We must ensure that there is the resourcing to back up this kind of work.

We are seeing a growing trend in technology-facilitated domestic abuse. At Refuge, we have a specialist team that supports victims of that type of domestic abuse. It can be completely wide-ranging: it can be via social media, it can be tracking, it can be hacking into survivors’ software and devices, and even hacking into the internet of things—Alexa, speakers and smart home hubs. It is really, really terrifying. Perpetrators are finding new ways to abuse, control and gaslight women.

Quite often, the response that survivors get when they go to the police to report tech abuse is really poor. Officers just suggest that they come offline as a solution to the abuse, which takes the onus away from the perpetrator’s responsibility. We had one case where a perpetrator had put an AirTag in a survivor’s car to track her whereabouts. The survivor had an AirTag detector app so was able to show that the device was in her car and not registered to any of her accounts. She took that to the police, and the first response was, “We’ve never heard of AirTags being used to stalk, so we can’t help you there.” That was a particularly appalling example of the lack of will to look into these types of tech abuse cases. I will leave it there, but I could go on forever about tech abuse.

Q322       Tim Loughton: Is that still part of a mindset? Do the police think, “Get over it,” rather than, “Actually, we’re a bit busy with other things at the moment, and it is a bit of a lower priority in the scheme of things”? Obviously, the latter is still a big issue. Resources can be sorted, although obviously we have a lot of challenges there. Is there still an institutionalised reluctance to take the abuse of women, in whatever form, seriously as a crime?

Jessica Eagelton: I think there is in many places. Now that we have violence against women and girls as a strategic policing requirement, I really hope that will change, and it should. Any force that is taking that mindset should be held accountable, because violence against women and girls is now in the strategic policing requirement. By any measure that you look at violence against women and girls statistics and domestic abuse statistics, this is high-harm, high-risk, high-volume crime, and it should be a huge priority for all police forces.

Nicole Jacobs: There is a potential opportunity. It is about leadership, obviously. There will be all kinds of ways through a strategic policing requirement, and now we should be modelling exactly what that practice should look like. The frontline officers—the new officers—will take on board the tone of people around them.

When I brought in those really excellent officers to talk to, one of the most striking things they said was that often the work they do in specialised units—community safety units—is seen as something to get through to get a promotion to somewhere else; you do your time. We really have to recruit and vet officers and bring people on to the force who want to do what is essentially the core business of the police.

Domestic abuse is the most common form of incident reported to the police in terms of crime. It needs to be presented to new officers as the core thing they do, and they must be very good at it, if it is such a huge proportion of one’s job. That is about leadership and tone. We always have these impulses to try to prioritise and amplify in any way, but the only way it ever really gets done is through the leadership in the force, having proper rewards and thinking of this as the part of your career where you can do excellent work in these areas.

Q323       Tim Loughton: Is there evidence of good practice emerging through the police working with other agencies, particularly through child protection social work, for example? In my experience, those are some of the best child protection social work teams. I have sat in on meetings where the police officer will be in attendance at the morning meetings, dealing with domestic abuse specialist social workers to have that shared experience.

Of course, as we know, so much domestic abuse happens in households where there are children; most alarmingly, a third of domestic abuse starts during pregnancy. That is where having the shared experiences, knowledge and intelligence of other agencies working around vulnerable families can be really beneficial. It can help police to understand that this is not just a case of “she says, he says” or whatever, but that there is a deeper-set problem there, where the woman and the children are both vulnerable, and it is therefore even more important that it is taken seriously. Is that still isolated to those cases with good practice, despite everything the Government have tried to do over the last 10 years or so about joint agency working?

Nicole Jacobs: Yes, it does happen, but it is still isolated. With this notion of characterising some of the multi-agency working or addressing this wider range of issues as not being core policing, I would say it is the other way around. The officer spending some time in that meeting has a much greater understanding of the part they are playing by being there.

For example, a police officer who is interacting with domestic abuse services is not only gleaning a lot of information about criminal activity that the victim may want to report and enhancing their ability to gather evidence, but partnering with the very person who can get the locks changed and deal with housing—the things that the police really do not need to do.

Q324       Tim Loughton: Sure. I completely agree with all that, so why is it not happening more?

Nicole Jacobs: Going back to our postcode lottery on domestic abuse services and that history of arrangements, again, why is the variation in force practice allowed in that way? We could ask every police force right now, “Tell us your multi-agency arrangements for domestic abuse. Do you allow IDVAs to co-locate with specialist teams?” We could ask all those types of things. We just don’t amplify that enough with the police, or expect that.

Q325       Tim Loughton: Co-location and the MASH model around child safeguarding has been very successful, although it is patchy. You have literally got a police officer sitting next to a social worker sitting next to a housing officer. You have a holistic analysis of a problematic family domestic scene and a joined-up approach as to how you deal with that, which may then lead to implications of criminality but certainly may start with prevention and family support. Have you pushed that model for dealing with domestic abuse and sexual abuse?

Nicole Jacobs: I definitely do. Some of that fundamental mapping has been really important in order to say, first, this is what victims have said they wanted and needed, and did and didn’t get, in the thousands, for England and Wales; and what actually exists, and to be much more precise in pointing out those gaps. Services for children is a huge gap. Mental health therapeutic support is a huge gap. Perpetrator intervention and work is one of the greatest gaps.

All of those things have to be in place if we want the police to use protection orders well, and to use the new DAPOs that we will be piloting well, and to build those partnerships. They cannot exist unless we have the foundation right, and that is what we have to own up to. We have had a huge amount of progress. Services like Refuge, although they are large and have great name recognition, will be struggling just like any other domestic abuse service, because of lack of funding, funding never sitting in core budgets and not having this expectation that we will have these types of services in all areas. That is where we are falling back, and it is hard for the police to then partner, so I don’t blame it totally on them.

There is a lot of context with the police; a lot is thrown at them with very little resource and underpinning—new offences, new orders of protection, and all of those things. I do acknowledge that. That is what we are hoping to do, among other things.

Chair: Thank you. I am conscious of time. I am going to ask Simon Fell and then Paula Barker if they have any questions to ask.

Q326       Simon Fell: Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the witnesses; this has been so informative. I only really have one question.

You were talking about the gaps. There are lots of barriers and lots of gaps, whether that is fishing exercises; a lack of confidence that if you report, anything will actually happen; or David Carrick, and the barrier that that throws up to people wanting to come forward, especially to law enforcement.

Where is getting this right? We are looking at the future of policing and what the model of policing should be. Whether it is in the UK or somewhere else around the world, what is a model that is working? Where do people have the confidence to come forward and feel that they will be listened to? Where is the system resourced well? What is the example that we should be pulling from?

Jessica Eagelton: Off the top of my head, I am not aware that I can point to one force and say, “They are doing everything absolutely perfectly.” I completely understand the wider landscape of finite resources. I am aware of pockets of good practice and what we were talking about in terms of specialism. Outside of London, where there is a lower level of turnover among staff in community safety units and public protection units, and an increased level of specialism, that is where we tend to see slightly better practice. As Nicole said, in London, we often see a high turnover of staff or officers on a two-year training programme, so once they fill up that specialism in domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, they are then rotated out of that unit.

I could probably point to those types of things. It also does come back to partnership working. Where we are aware of particularly good practice in policing around domestic abuse, it is where services have invested in building up relations with other statutory agencies in the area, and other specialist domestic abuse services. I think it was in Warrington, for example, where the force worked together with some of our services, particularly around tailoring domestic violence protection notices to survivors’ needs.

At the moment, protective orders, like domestic violence protection notices, are underused and used inconsistently. Survivors are crying out for a more effective protective order system. That is an example of where we have seen good practice, where there has been investment in working with and wanting to understand survivors’ needs in more detail.

Nicole Jacobs: I would cite UK examples, too. Kent Police has done something interesting, thinking about the volume but getting it right for the victim. On evidence, there is rapid evidence gathering with video calls. I have sat through and watched them myself as calls come in. Not all are domestic abuse victims but some of them, who maybe want to report a breach of an order, for example—the perpetrator is not near them, and they want to talk to a police officer. They do not want the police car outside the door if they have kids at home, or whatever. That is excellent and thoughtful use of police resources. It frees up time for police officers who do need to get to domestic abuse calls quickly to do that. That is the kind of thing we need.

North Yorkshire Police has Project Shield. I know this sounds shocking, but no police forces can look on their systems and see if an order of protection is in place. Did you know that? They cannot do it. Their systems do not talk to each other. I have asked about this in London, too. If you are the victim, you have to be lucky enough to have the order of protection on you to show the officer. In North Yorkshire, they manually put orders of protection they were getting from the civil court on to the police national database system, so that they can see them, and they can see any activity around that house. Why wouldn’t we be doing that? How are we at a point where, even though we have had a super-complaint, we have still not done that?

We will send you a soon-to-be-published report that maps where we have this joined-up working through the criminal justice system and the specialist court model. That is the kind of thing we need to drill into, and say, “If they could do it there, why wouldn’t every force be doing it?” It seems to be really practical.

Chair: That sounds very helpful. If you would send that to us, it would be very helpful when we are putting our report together.

Q327       Paula Barker: Thank you for the work you do. It is remarkable, and I pay tribute to the services up and down the country that do this day in, day out and are not resourced as they should be. Although I accept that there are issues around police resourcing, we have seen some horrific examples of policing over the past 12 months. I know, Jessica, that your organisation put more than 1,000 bad apples outside New Scotland Yard, for example. You have spoken about the least senior officers being sent to interview people who have been victims of domestic abuse or violence against women and girls.

Do you agree that it is indicative of the importance that is placed on this, not only by the police but society as a whole? How do we get that societal change to say that women and girls need to be respected? As we look at vetting procedures for new officers being taken on, should all officers go through specific training around violence against women and girls, which is trauma-led and trauma-informed?

Jessica Eagelton: Yes, is the answer to your last question. Having specific vetting around violence against women and girls would definitely help to improve women’s confidence in the police. I am glad you referred to the apples, which was a stunt we put on a couple of weeks ago. The root of that was that we were hearing a narrative around exceptionalising bad apples within the police, when we actually saw 1,000 officers being investigated for allegations.

Over the past couple of weeks in north Wales and Gloucestershire, we have seen more news reports coming through of cases of violence against women and girls perpetrated by officers. We will only have a modern police service that is fit for policing violence against women and girls when it can police itself effectively first. So, yes, I absolutely agree with your point there.

Nicole Jacobs: People ask about these huge societal attitudes. It is a hard question. In my view, it is about boiling it back down to understanding that these systems were never set up in the first place to understand domestic abuse in its entirety of coercion, control and all those things. All systems—children’s social care, housing, health—have to change, including the police. The only way that I have seen people really change their attitudes is usually when they can see that they are able to do a good job. They can understand: “This is what I was doing. I see how that was failing people. This is what I need to do.” I tend to be quite hyper-focused on what it is that you want to see change specifically—really get specific. You tend to see people do better, change attitudes, get to know services and what they are able to do, and become more open-minded in that way.

That is not the only way, but it is the most practical way to get to that. When you see police reflecting the seriousness of domestic abuse, that helps to change society as well as any frontliner or community-based leader. It is a big tide to turn, but I don’t think that we should give up. I really feel that we have loads of specifics that we can help support the police to do and to create that greater accountability that will drive change. I would not want to be a chief constable and to be at the bottom of the league table—I don’t think any of them would be—so we have to flesh out the very specific changes that we want to see.

Chair: That is very helpful. Thank you very much for coming before us this morning. This issue is one that we will reflect on. We are very interested in the good practice that you talked about, which is happening in police forces, and in being able to reference it in our report. Thank you again for attending this morning and giving evidence. We really appreciate it. I am sure we will see you again.