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 minister of state for employment.

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Obama's Hiroshima visit is a wake up call on the risks of nuclear weapons

The president's historic visit must lead to fresh efforts to rid our world of destructive missiles and safeguard our futures.

We now know more than ever the dangers of an accidental or deliberate detonation of a nuclear weapon. We also realise that there can be no adequate humanitarian response to such a nightmare scenario.

Malfunctions, mishaps, false alarms and misinterpreted information have nearly led to the intentional or accidental detonation of nuclear weapons on numerous occasions since 1945, according to testimonies by experts and former nuclear force officers. In the past two years alone, the organisation Global Zero has documented scores of “military incidents” involving nuclear weapon states and their allies, alongside the increasing risks stemming from cyberattacks.

Put this together with recent insight into the appalling long-term health impact of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions themselves, and the sheer human cost of any future nuclear bomb blast, and you have a truly alarming picture.

We were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki last year, speaking to survivors, or hibakusha, as they are known. More than 70 years on, their lives, and the lives of countless people in Japan, are still overshadowed by these two watershed events in the history of modern warfare.

After the detonations, Red Cross staff struggled in unimaginable conditions to relieve the suffering caused by the atomic blasts. With hospitals reduced to rubble and ash and medical supplies contaminated, the provision of even basic health care was well nigh impossible.

But the nightmare is far from over even today.

Doctors at the Japanese Red Cross Society hospitals in Hiroshima and Nagasaki say that some two-thirds of the deaths among elderly hibakusha are from probably radiation-related cancers. And aside from the physical symptoms, the psychological trauma is still ever present.

No-one who visits Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, or who sees the continued suffering of thousands of elderly survivors, can be in any doubt of the catastrophic and irreversible effects of nuclear weapons. Nor could they in good conscience argue that these weapons somehow act as guarantors of global security or protectors of humanity as a whole.

Of course, the bombs in the arsenals of nuclear-armed States today are far more powerful and destructive. And modern research only makes the case against them stronger. Studies suggest that the use of nuclear weapons now even on a limited scale, would have disastrous and long-lasting consequences on human health, the environment, the climate, food production and socioeconomic development.

Health problems would span generations, with children of survivors facing significant risks from the genetic damage inflicted on their parents.

Seventy years after the dawn of the "nuclear age", there may be no effective or feasible means of assisting a substantial portion of survivors in the immediate wake of a nuclear detonation.

And make no mistake. The devastation of a future bomb will show no respect for national borders. It is likely to ravage societies far beyond its intended target country. Which makes the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the risk that entails a global concern.

Faced with these conclusions, you might imagine the international community would pull back from the brink of potential tragedy and take steps to eradicate these weapons.

Sadly, last year’s review conference of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which had the opportunity to advance disarmament, failed to do so.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has called on States to negotiate an international agreement to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons within a binding timetable. We reiterate that call today. The political will to rid the world of this menace must urgently be found.

Until the last nuclear weapon is eliminated, there are essential steps which nuclear States can and must take now to diminish the danger of another Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is imperative that these States and their allies reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their military plans, doctrines and policies and cut the number of nuclear warheads on high alert status. The current modernization and proliferation of nuclear arsenals is leading us towards potential catastrophe.

The horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the human suffering inflicted still holds powerful lessons. President Obama’s landmark visit on Friday will surely be a powerful reminder of the terrible destruction that nuclear weapons wreak.

We must act on this reminder.

To truly pay homage to those whose lives were lost or irrevocably altered by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, President Obama’s visit must galvanize the international community to move without delay towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

The fact that these weapons have not been used over the past 70 years does not guarantee a risk-free future for our children. Only the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons can do that.

Peter Maurer is President of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Tadateru Konoe is President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and of the Japanese Red Cross Society.