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Crisis in the Courts: Barristers shun rape cases

Crisis in the Courts: Barristers shun rape cases


"Devastating" report reveals 64% prosecutors and 66% defence barristers refuse serious sexual assault cases, exacerbating backlog crisis

In a concerning revelation, a recent report from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has unveiled a deepening crisis in the legal system, as the majority of barristers express their reluctance to take on rape and serious sexual assault cases. The survey, which included 64% of prosecutors and 66% of defence barristers approved for rape and serious sexual offences (Rasso) cases, showed a shocking trend of legal professionals opting out of handling these sensitive matters.

The survey's findings come at a critical juncture when the backlog of crown court Rasso cases has reached an unprecedented high, with 9,792 cases awaiting resolution. This starkly contrasts with the historically low figure of 3,005 on December 31, 2018, indicating a severe strain on the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

David Hardstaff, Serious and General Crime Partner at BCL Solicitors, expressed his lack of surprise at the report's findings. He emphasised that the chronic underfunding and neglect spanning decades lie at the core of this issue. This crisis not only contradicts the standards upheld by a progressive society but also undermines the government's struggling Rape Review.

David Hardstaff pointed out that the barristers' exodus from handling serious sexual assault cases is a symptom of the broader problems plaguing the legal system. The strain on these professionals, compounded by years of neglect, jeopardises the justice system's ability to function effectively.

The ramifications of barristers shunning such crucial cases extend beyond the legal profession. David Hardstaff highlighted that the real victims are those dependent on the justice system, both on the prosecution and defence sides. The increasing reluctance of barristers to engage in this critical work amplifies the existing flaws within the system and raises concerns about the potential for serious miscarriages of justice.

To address this growing crisis, urgent action is imperative. Without intervention, the legal system may witness a further deterioration, resulting in an alarming increase in miscarriages of justice. The report serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need for comprehensive reforms to ensure the health and efficacy of the criminal justice system in the face of mounting challenges.