CPS issues new guidance on rape and murder cases

Posted by Bella Sankey on 05 July 2012

In July 2010 staff nurse Jane Clough was violently murdered by former partner Jonathan Vass. He’d previously been charged with raping her after Jane ended their relationship. But when Vass pleaded guilty to murder at trial, the prosecution opted to let the outstanding rape charges lie on file.

Sadly that wasn’t an isolated case, and disquiet over such decisions, together with a brave campaign by Jane’s family, led the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consult on new draft guidance on when rape counts linked to murder should be left to lie on file.

Publication of the draft guidance earlier this year was welcome. Both offences are so serious that it will nearly always be in the public interest for each charge to be pursued. Not only is rape a grave, dehumanising offence that causes untold trauma for victims but there are also important public safety reasons for both offences to be prosecuted. Allowing rape counts to lie on file in linked murder cases allows perpetrators to avoid the stigma attached to a rape trial and conviction may lead to rapists murdering victims to stop them speaking out.

While the CPS draft guidance insisted that allowing rape counts to lie on file would be the “exception rather than the rule”, we were concerned that its original wording wouldn’t encourage such a presumption in practice. More explicit recognition of the gravity of rape in its own right and its implications for post sentence decision-making were necessary. The draft guidance also suggested “any views expressed by the judge” should be taken into account, which risked undermining prosecutorial independence and charges not being pursued merely for case management reasons.

So Liberty responded to the consultation and we are pleased to see that the final version of the new guidance – published today – reflects our concerns. There is now a very strong presumption in favour of prosecuting rape and the guidance rightly stresses the important reasons why prosecution for rape will nearly always be in the public interest. The requirement to consider the judge’s views has also been deleted and the guidance also rightly advises consultation with victims’ families.

After Jane Clough’s brutal murder her family were left wondering how it could be considered not in the public interest to charge Vass with the full horror of the crimes he inflicted. Hopefully the new guidance will prevent such a situation arising again and should prove of some small comfort to bereaved families now and in the future.