The University of Warwick’s report on rape prosecution welcomed by the Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has welcomed a report by the University of Warwick into the handling of rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases.

An independent academic team led by Professor Vanessa Munro from the University of Warwick evaluated the design and impact of activities piloted under Operation Soteria - the work to overhaul the prosecution and handling of RASSO cases.

The interim findings, delivered to the CPS in April 2023, have been vital in informing and strengthening the CPS national operating model for the prosecution of adult rape, rolled out nationally in July 2023.

The final report concludes that the new operating model, now rolled out to all CPS areas, builds effectively on many of the key insights of Operation Soteria initiatives and makes commendable commitments to ensuring they are part of a consistent national approach.

Professor Vanessa Munro, who led the University of Warwick team said, "This independent research into the design, operation, and impact of Operation Soteria pilots across CPS pathfinder areas has provided a rare, but vital, opportunity to scrutinise the handling of rape complaints and complainants by RASSO units.

"The report has also highlighted areas where further efforts are required, if the ambitions driving Soteria, and the Government’s wider Rape Review, are to be achieved. These include, in relation to myths and stereotypes in decision-making; communication with victims, collaboration with counsel, reviewing lawyers’ presence in the courtroom, and staff wellbeing.

"We are grateful to colleagues across the CPS, policing, criminal bar, judiciary and third sector who have supported, and contributed to, the research in different ways, and hope that the findings will be of value to them all’in their efforts to improve rape justice."

Though the research has not collected data on the implementation of the new operating model since its launch in July 2023, it concludes - based on analysis of Operation Soteria pilots - that many of the measures contained in the model can bring a real improvement the CPS handling of rape cases.

These improvements include the benefits of police and CPS speaking at an early stage in investigations, dedicated RASSO victim liaison officers, the use of multi-agency scrutiny panels to look in detail at both charged and uncharged cases and dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) mailboxes to increase and improve the quality of communication with these third sector advocates.

The final report highlighted that the ambition of Operation Soteria was unprecedented, but that the CPS has more to do to embed the national operating model effectively and sustainably.

It also warned there are areas where potential ’slippage’ in implementation should be guarded against, including in relation to reviewing lawyers’ increased presence in courtrooms, victim communication obligations, and a need for a future focus on strong leadership and shifts in organisational culture.

Baljit Ubhey, CPS Director of Strategy and Policy said: "The research of Professor Vanessa Munro and her team has been vital in informing our national operating model and training of specialist prosecutors as the CPS moves forward in our journey to transforming how we prosecute rape cases and support victims. We thank her again for her report.

"We can see the work we have been doing jointly with police is having a tangible impact but we still have a long way to go to drive that lasting change. Continued challenge and scrutiny from stakeholders will be integral to that progress."

Since the launch of the national operating model, the CPS has hired RASSO-specific victim liaison officers in all’its areas, to be in post by May 2024, and trained 196 specialist RASSO prosecutors in harmful rape assumptions and misconceptions.

The full report is available on the University of Warwick website.


Notes to editors
  • The University of Warwick research began in July 2022. The work evaluated the design and operation of activities undertaken during Operation Soteria within the CPS, exploring the extent to which activities had been, or were likely to be, successful in achieving change.

  • The CPS are committed to ensuring a move away from RASSO assumptions and misconceptions, which can involve false understanding of how both suspects and victims behave, and instead reflect a suspect-centric approach, also recognising the complexity of victim responses.

  • The CPS will update our RASSO prosecution guidance to reflect the outcome of both the University of Warwick research. The refreshed guidance will include reframing common harmful rape misconceptions, their implications, and how prosecutors can address them.

  • Clear, up-to-date guidance is crucial to helping CPS specialist prosecutors make fair and effective decisions and ensuring justice is delivered in every case for victims and alleged perpetrators.

  • The CPS have also updated our training for prosecutors and advocates on how to challenge harmful assumptions and misconceptions.

  • In the last published quarter (covering the July-September 2023 period), CPS management data showed there was another increase in the number of suspects charged in adult rape-flagged cases (from 599 in Q1 23/24 to 668 in Q2 23/24) returning CPS charging numbers to 2016 levels.

  • CPS management data showed we charged seven out of 10 (74.9 per cent) of adult rape-flagged cases which had been referred by police to the CPS ready for a charging decision to be made.