The Government has apologised for “failing” rape victims over years of plunging conviction levels and vowed to try to finally boost rates.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said they were “deeply ashamed” in the downward trend in bringing offenders to justice.
The latest official figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began.
It was also down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but only 1.6% of reported cases results in a charge.
The ministers set out plans for a “system and culture change” which will include focusing more on the behaviour of the suspect than the accuser.
They cited a raft of measures to boost the volume of allegations referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the number of suspects charged, and the amount of cases reaching court return to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament.
Measures include a pilot scheme aimed at reducing cross-examination of victims in court by conducting pre-recorded interviews, a nationwide recognition that only evidence about the complainant that is pertinent to the case should be used, and a new approach to investigations to assess suspect behaviour and offending patterns.
The review, which was commissioned more than two years ago, said: “The current situation is totally unacceptable and the Government is determined to change it: we owe this to every victim and are extremely sorry that the system has reached this point.”
The ministers added: “These are trends of which we are deeply ashamed. Victims of rape are being failed.
Thousands of victims have gone without justice. But this isn’t just about numbers – every instance involves a real person who has suffered a truly terrible crime.”
Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “The stark drop in the number of cases that have gone before a jury in recent years means too few victims are seeing justice and reversing that is an absolute priority for the CPS.
“This review presents an unprecedented opportunity across the whole criminal justice system, and I am determined to lead meaningful and lasting change in every aspect of how these cases are handled, in partnership with the police and the courts.”