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Groundbreaking Rape Scrutiny Panel launches in Northumbria Police Region

27th January 2015

Innovative new measures aimed at improving the conduct and outcomes of rape trials begin this month, with the launch by Vera Baird, the Police and Crime Commissioner, of the Rape Scrutiny Panel in the Northumbria Police region.

The panel, which is due to meet for the first time today (Tuesday 27 January), consists of ten specially-trained volunteers from the voluntary and community sectors with expertise in the subject.

Their task will be to examine case files where it has been judged that no crime has been committed, or which were said not to have achieved the required threshold of evidence to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. They will also examine failed prosecutions, to look for ways to improve the process for future occasions.

In tandem with this system, the Police and Crime Commissioner has also introduced a Court Observers Panel, which began work this month, to be present at all adult rape trials at Newcastle Crown Court.

The Observers Panel will similarly be drawn from the voluntary and community sectors. It will report back to the Commissioner, particularly noting the unacceptable appearance of any myths and stereotypes such as the suggestion that victims have in some way contributed to what has happened; for instance, by the way they have dressed.

The Observers Panel will also consider whether the complainant’s needs are being properly considered in each case, whether the impact of sexual abuse on the ability to testify is being properly taken into account during proceedings and any sense of the victim being tried rather than the defendant.

Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, commented:

“The two different panels will publish their observations to improve the way rape cases are dealt with by the criminal justice agencies and to increase understanding between those agencies and alleged victims of abuse. I want these innovations to increase confidence in the process, encouraging victims and witnesses to report incidents, whilst assuring defendants that any improvements in the system will protect them too.”

The Rape Scrutiny Panel will specifically examine the police investigations, to see if there are ways to improve.”

The Rape Scrutiny Panel and Court Observers Panel are key parts of the ongoing Violence Against Women and Girls strategy which was launched in late 2013 in the Northumbria region and with my fellow North East Police and Crime Commissioners in the Durham and Cleveland areas.”

These initiatives follow the reporting of a Labour Party Commission that Mrs Baird led on women’s safety, entitled ‘Everywoman Safe Everywhere’.

This concluded that women are being failed by what it considered to be “chaotic” funding and policy changes, without properly evaluating their cumulative impact on safety.

The Commission’s main recommendations, including creating a Minister for Violence Against Women and Girls, a Commissioner to tackle domestic and sexual violence and a new National Refuge Fund, have all been accepted by Labour.

Northumbria’s Assistant Chief Constable, Winton Keenan, added:

“Northumbria Police welcomes this independent scrutiny from the PCC and her team and will embrace any areas identified that can be improved upon from a policing perspective. The wellbeing of the victim remains paramount.”


The Rape Scrutiny Panel and Court Observers Panel are both part of the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy which was introduced in the North East in December 2013 by the three police and crime commissioners and is the first regional strategy to deal with the issue:

More about VAWG: