27 January 2023

A violent rapist being sentenced to five years is all too typical of our broken criminal justice system


Earlier this week, Sean Robinson began a prison sentence after being convicted of rape and actual bodily harm.

The details are horrific. I am sorry to have to recount them.

The 18-year-old forced a woman to submit to rape in order to save the life of a man she was out with on a first date, whom Robinson started battering so repeatedly that she thought he would die. Desperate for any way to stop what the prosecuting barrister called the ‘relentless attack’, the woman acceded to Robinson’s demands to have sex with her. Robinson then raped her. When she started crying, he said: ‘If you [don’t] stop, I will go and kill him you know.’

The good news for Robinson is that he will be out of prison in time for the next World Cup. His sentence was five years, of which the judge said he must serve two thirds in custody. One wonders why the judge didn’t simply give him a nasty stare and send him on his way.

But the grim reality is that, horrific as this case is, the leniency of the sentence is far from unusual. In 2021 almost two dozen rapists were sentenced to less than four years in prison. Eighteen were not even given a custodial sentence.

That said, it is exceptional in another sense: the simple fact of actually being prosecuted. Figures published yesterday show that of the 199,021 sexual offences recorded by police in England and Wales in the 12 months to last September, only 6,368 resulted in a suspect being charged. And in the year to March 2020 there were 70,633 rapes recorded. Just 1130 of them – 1.6% led to a charge. Over the past four years, rape prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen by 70%.

Is it any wonder some victims of rape find it beyond them to pursue things, when the overwhelming likelihood is that they will be let down by the system at some point? That’s why in 42% of cases, victims dropped the case because they had given up hope of a prosecution.

The Robinson case is merely the latest illustration of how, at every point, the criminal justice system is broken.

Take the first port of call for most people, the police. In a poll last year after Cressida Dick’s resignation as Met Commissioner, one third said they wouldn’t bother reporting a crime because the police would do nothing, with nearly half saying the police are unlikely to solve a burglary or assault. No wonder, because it is indeed unlikely.

In the year to last September, there were 1.6 million thefts recorded, of which just 4% led to a charge. 70% were closed by the police without a suspect identified.

And for fraud the picture is bleaker still, with a measly one in 50 reports now leading to a suspect being caught – which is probably because only one in 200 police officers are dedicated to fraud – despite fraud and cybercrime accounting for half of all crime in the UK.

Sometimes it seems as if the police are either useless or part of the problem. That may sound unfair to the majority of officers who do a dangerous and vital job as well as they can, all too often they are let down by senior colleagues who either refuse to implement the law (such as the softly, softly approach taken to fossil fuel protestors who block the highway) or who, like some sitcom caricature, behave as if they are a branch of social services.

But even if a case does somehow end up being prosecuted, the courts are falling apart. The infrastructure itself is often unfit for purpose, with buildings barely useable, IT that doesn’t work and chaotic admin which can mean delays of years in cases coming to court. As of last June – before barristers’ strikes worsened the figures – the courts backlog in England and Wales stood at 58,973 cases, having almost doubled since 2019. Barristers on both sides are more likely than not to have had just a few minutes to read the case notes (which often turn out to have glaring errors from the CPS) and hundreds of criminal barristers leave the profession every year because they can’t make it pay.

And if, mirabile dictu, there is actually a conviction, the chaos still doesn’t end. This week has seen the results of an investigation into the probation failures around Jordan McSweeney, the murderer of Zara Aleena. He had been wrongly assessed as ‘medium-risk’ by probation staff. In his report, the Chief Inspector of Probation said there was a ‘chronic’ shortage of probation officers across England, particularly in London, where 50% of posts have not been filled.

Asked if the public were safe, he said it was ‘impossible to say…given the quality of work that is sometimes happening in local probation areas’.

All of this points to systemic failure across the entire criminal justice system. Some of it is clearly about money – as a society we have to understand that you cannot do any of this on the cheap – and the impact on morale of consistent under-resourcing. But it’s also, perhaps, about a misguided outlook or ideology to criminal justice roles that should be focused first and foremost on justice for victims.

This week’s row, for example, over the Scottish rapist Adam Graham, who now claims to be a trans woman, is a perfect example of how the determination of a small number of ideologues can have an impact far beyond their numbers. Graham is a man, and that is all that needs to be said when it comes to housing him in prison. It was only a belated intervention from Nicola Sturgeon that stopped Graham being housed in an all-female prison, but the fact it was ever being considered shows that north of the border too the system too often bends to the demands of offenders, rather than the interests of public safety.

It is a pretty basic requirement of any government that it should ensure the criminal justice system functions, that the public are safe and that criminals feels the full force of the law. Basic that task may be, but it’s one this government is still singularly failing to carry out.

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Stephen Pollard is Editor-at-large of the Jewish Chronicle.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.