The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) argued the CPS moved away from a “merits-based approach” to deciding which cases of alleged rape and other serious sexual assault should be prosecuted, which it said has given rise to “systemic illegality”.
The group claimed that, between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors became more risk-averse and shifted towards an “unlawful predictive approach when deciding whether to charge” alleged sexual offences.
Their lawyers said this unlawful approach has led to a “shocking and unprecedented decline in both the rate and volume of rape offences charged by the CPS”.
The CPS, however, said there has been no change in policy and argued at a hearing in January that the removal of dedicated “merits-based approach” guidance “did not result in any substantial change” in charging decisions.
In a judgment on Monday, the court of appeal dismissed the EVAW’s case, ruling that the CPS did not change its policy in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences.
The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, said in the ruling that the removal of references to the “merits-based approach” in guidance for prosecutors “was not a change of legal substance”.
The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Holroyde and Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing, said: “We do not consider that it was unlawful to decide to remove references to the merits-based approach from the Director of Public Prosecution’s legal guidance.
“Stripped of references to the merits-based approach, the remaining guidance is not unlawful.”
Lord Burnett added: “We reject the submission that the decision created any risk of systemic illegality.”