They tied the alleged change in approach to a 45 per cent drop in rape cases being charged, arguing CPS lawyers in England and Wales may have been left confused on the threshold for bringing a prosecution.
But Court of Appeal judges today dismissed a judicial review bid, finding the Director of Public Prosecutions had acted lawfully in clarifying the approach to charging decisions.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) and End Violence Against Women (EVAW) argued prosecutors may have been pushed away from applying a “merits-based approach” (MBA) to rape allegations, fearful of bringing prosecutions that ultimately failed and reduced their conviction rates.
But the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde and Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing, dismissed the argument and analysis, saying then-DPP Alison Saunders had acted to clarify the decision-making process.
“The illegality is said to be that prosecutors would fail to apply the full Code test”, they said in today’s ruling. This ground fails on the facts.
“It is linked to the assertion that the specialist RASSO prosecutors were left in a state of confusion. We reject the submission that the decision created any risk of systemic illegality.
“Properly analysed, the decision was a decision to remove unhelpful references to the MBA and to emphasise the primacy of the full Code test.
“We are unable to accept that it gave rise to any risk that prosecutors would wrongly apply the bookmaker’s approach to decision making, or otherwise fail to apply the full Code test.”
The judges said Ms Saunders had taken decisions “in an area with which she was very experienced and knowledgeable”, and was “determined to secure better outcomes for complainants, in accordance with the law and her duties”.
They disagreed with the argument that changes to guidance for prosecutors had “sowed confusion”.
The judges also dismissed claims on transparency, equality, and a suggestion that alterations in the CPS guidance should have been consulted on before being implemented.
In its defence to the legal claim the CPS insisted there had not been a fundamental change in its approach to rape cases, adding that “independent inspectors have found no evidence of a risk averse approach and have reported a clear improvement in the quality of our legal decision making in rape cases.
“The principles of the merits-based approach are enshrined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which guides every charging decision”, the organisation said in a statement.
“Along with the police, we remain committed to making real, lasting improvements to how these horrific offences are handled, so every victim will feel able to come forward with confidence that their complaint will be fully investigated and, where the evidence supports, charged and prosecuted.”
The plunging numbers of rape and serious sexual offences cases being prosecuted around the country are currently the subject of a review by the Ministry of Justice.