The round-up of the stories that a budding Student Lawyer should be aware of this week:
Decline in rape cases resulting in a charge or summons
Reported by Ellena Mottram
Recent Home Office statistics indicate a rapid decline in rape prosecutions in England and Wales resulting in 1.5% reported rapes resulting in a charge of summons. This means that out of the number of rapes reported in 2018-2019 only 886 resulted in a charge or summons compared to 4908 in 2015-2016.
A charge or summons is one of the steps which occurs in proceedings prior to a trial where a suspect is formally accused of a crime. After a charge has been made a case may still be dropped and even if it proceeds to court statistics show that a conviction is less likely than it was a decade ago.
The substantial decline in these cases comes during the same period where more victims are having the confidence to report their attack. In the year ending March 2017 there were a total of 121,187 offenses recorded by police which was a 14% increase from the previous year, and the highest level recorded since the National Crime Recording Standard was introduced in 2002. Given the increase in reports, it appears particularly concerning the opposite has occurred in relation to the cases which result in a charge or summons.
It is unclear why there has been such a sharp decline in prosecutions. In a recent statement, a Home Office spokesperson spoke of the confidence of victims coming forward, but acknowledged the concerning trend in the fall of prosecutions. They stated that the Home Office were conducting ‘an end-to-end review of rape cases to establish why this has happened, and identify any issues with the criminal justice system’. When this review will reveal answers and solutions is uncertain, especially as it comes in the same week as a new Secretary of State for Justice has been appointed.
Rape is an extremely difficult crime to prosecute because it centres around the issue of consent in a situation where there are often only two people present. This recent decline however comes in a climate where an increasing amount of digital evidence is being requested.
Just last week the newly appointed victims commissioner for England and Wales clashed with prosecutors after warning victims to be prepared to hand over everything. Rape victims can be asked to disclose sensitive personal details which can include all digital evidence held on their phone or laptops. If there is not full disclosure police may drop a case or the CPS may refuse to proceed.
A Remedy to the Anti-Poverty Policy
Reported by Emma Ducroix
According to studies, 7% of the UK population is in deep poverty. This means that the family’s income is at least 50% below the official breadline, locking them into a weekly struggle to afford the most basic living essentials. The finding echoes wider concerns about the re-emergence of extreme poverty, known as destitution. A destitution level of income is £140 a week for a couple with two children. There has been a dramatic rise in child poverty in families with three or more children.
It also confirms that work is no longer a guarantee of protection against poverty. Even in families where all adults work full time, one in six children are in poverty.
Helen Barnard, a commission member and poverty expert at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We need our new prime minister to get to work immediately on a bold plan to boost living standards and support our towns and cities in building a more hopeful economic future.”
Worryingly this rise in poverty has coincided with a drop in the availability of legal aid. Lady Hale, the UK’s most senior judge appealed for support likely to reignite controversy over cuts to legal aid. More precisely, she has appealed for people to give money to a charity whose volunteers support those who become embroiled in civil court cases but cannot afford a lawyer. “I know how intimidating the civil and family courts can be for people without legal knowledge or help,” she declared. “Everyone deserves access to justice whether or not they can afford a lawyer.”
Protracted austerity since 2012 caused an alarming rise in the number of people forced to represent themselves. The number of people receiving legal aid has fallen more than 80% in eight years. According to some critics, this led to unsatisfactory justice, with an increasing numbers of people without lawyers. “The problem is in private law cases, that is cases where the disputes are within the family, not between the family and the local authority, and by and large legal aid is no longer available for private law cases unless there’s been an allegation and evidence of domestic violence.
Those on low incomes are being excluded from the justice process. Not only are people on low incomes experiencing the full impact of austerity cuts, they are increasingly excluded from enforcing what rights they have through the courts. Poverty does not just mean lack of money, but exclusion from those processes that bind us together as citizens.
Both Lady Hale, the UK’s senior judge, and Sir James Munby, the former most senior family court judge, have expressed concerns about the lack of access to justice for those involved in civil cases who cannot afford a lawyer. Those seeking to access court processes through self-representation usually learn that this is a stressful and difficult process and many are driven into debt to fund lawyers and legal advisers.
Access to justice and a fair hearing for all citizens should be a government priority and this must be enshrined in law.
Amendment to Assisted Dying Law
Reported by Emma Ducroix
In order to better understand the current situation regarding the right to euthanasia, you can refer to our full article dated January 2019.
Ten years after Debbie Purdy’s successful legal case, partisans, including her husband, appeal to the UK justice minister.
Indeed, nowadays, UK citizens accompanied loved ones abroad for an assisted death. A research from the UK’s Assisted Dying Coalition reveals that more than one person a week makes that journey.
It is 10 years since Debbie Purdy’s successful legal case, requiring the director of public prosecutions to clarify when a person who accompanies a loved one to Switzerland can expect to face prosecution under the Suicide Act 1961.
Risking families and friends prosecution is mainly considered as “unlawful” by all the patients whose life is nearly ended. This is why many families are now urging an action from the State to change the law.
The debate centres around the right to choose how we die. It is a fundamental human right, and that those who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering should have the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death as their last wish.
Parliament has yet to consider legislation that will allow the right to control the manner and timing of our deaths. But as prominent medical opinion has shifted, it’s about to happen.
An overwhelming 88% of the public have said they favor assisted dying for those who are incurably suffering. We can then clearly say that, ten years ago Debbie Purdy took the first steps in our country’s journey towards a compassionate change in the law.