A woman holds a banner as she takes part in a 'slut walk' in London on September 22, 2012 to protest against the police and courts' treatment of alleged rape victims. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The coalition can't ignore the fall in sexual and domestic violence prosecutions

A future Labour government will require police forces and the CPS to regularly publish how they perform on violence against women and girls.

More women are summoning the courage to walk into police stations to report sexual and domestic violence and yet prosecutions are falling sharply. Whenever I have asked the government about this disturbing trend, which has emerged over the past two years, ministers have complacently pointed to rising headline conviction rates without addressing the fact that thousands fewer cases are making it to trial at all. A future Labour government will require police forces and the CPS to regularly publish how they perform on violence against women and girls at every stage of the criminal justice system, from report to conviction.

Since 2010-11, the number of prosecutions for rape has fallen by more than 12 per cent despite a three per cent increase in the number of offences reported to the police. Prosecutions for child abuse have fallen 18 per cent over this period, while the number of offences that the CPS categorises as child abuse has drifted up six per cent. Meanwhile, domestic violence prosecutions have slumped 14 per cent, even though the Office of National Statistics maintains that incidents of domestic violence have been steady at around a million or so a year since 2008-9.

Prosecutions are falling because the police are referring fewer and fewer cases to prosecutors. In total, there were nearly 20,000 fewer cases of rape, child abuse and domestic violence referred to the CPS than in 2010-11. In rough terms, whereas it was once the case that around half of all reports of domestic and sexual violence would get referred to prosecutors =, now it’s only about a third. 

Ideally, all crimes as serious and complex as rape should go before prosecutor before a decision either to charge or to drop is made. This has been stressed in national guidance to police and prosecutors. Officially, the two agencies were supposed to be striving to co-operate more closely to build the cases that once might have been dismissed out of hand. Last month, however, it was reported that police forces were reaching local agreements with CPS about how to dispose of more of these cases earlier in order to clear backlogs of casework. As a result,  police forces are applying more of the prosecutorial tests for bringing charges themselves, while in others, prosecutors are being consulted but only to give early informal, "on the nod" assent that cases should be dropped rather than a formal examination of all the evidence available.

None of this – the collapse in referrals, the slump in prosecutions, the divergence between national standards and regional practice – can be discerned from the information that is currently made routinely public. Labour has had to compile it from parliamentary answers and freedom of information requests and disparate reports from various agencies. A future Labour government would make law enforcement agencies publish this information because the people of Cumbria have a right to know that last year their police force referred 54 per cent fewer rapes to the CPS for charges than the year before, just as the citizens of Liverpool have a right to know that CPS Merseyside Cheshire takes no further action on nearly three quarters of rape cases referred to it by the police. Publishing this data would help the public hold them to account. The former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer is also advising Labour on how it can enshrine the rights of victims into law if it wins the next election.

Last month, the High Court delivered a landmark ruling that systematic  failures by the police to investigate serious violent crime can constitute a breach of the victim’s rights under the European Convention, in particular, Article 3, freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.  The claim was brought by the victims of the serial rapist John Warboys against the Metropolitan Police who failed to investigate their allegations properly and thus failed to stop him attacking again.

This judgment shows that the system has to change. We need to have a system whereby, when a victim walks into a police station, she can be confident that she will be believed and that every effort will be made find evidence to support her in court. We must work with women brave enough to complain because the only way to stop these violent and abusive men is to prosecute them.

Emily Thornberry is MP for Islington South & Finsbury and shadow secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital