Attracting and retaining advocates to prosecute rape and other serious sexual offences is critical to the success of rape prosecution and the delivery of justice. I highlighted this three years ago as part of the launch of the CPS Rape Strategy – RASSO 2025. In this, we committed to supporting all our people involved in this work, from prosecutors to paralegal officers, specialist advocates, and administrative staff. We made all rape prosecution advocates – both in-house at the CPS and externally from the Bar – a part of our strategy, recognising the crucial role they all play in the delivery of justice, as well as representing the Crown Prosecution Service in the court room.
The skills and experience gained through this work create a specialism that should be nurtured to recognise the critical contribution of advocates, and importantly attract and retain new talent to this work. It is also highly rewarding, and the skills gained from exposure to this work create further opportunities for career progression and advancement.
A new model
This month we launched a new National Operating Model for adult rape prosecution, which demonstrates a real transformation in the way we approach this work, which has been delivered through a programme named Operation Soteria.
Soteria has been an ambitious joint police and CPS programme of work, and over the last 18 months the CPS have been testing activities in nine areas under workstreams that include early partnership working with police, supporting victims, and our people. We have also examined ways of improving timeliness of cases to reduce cracked, vacated and ineffective trials via our case progression and trial readiness workstream.
Soteria has been supported by an independent academic team, led by Professor Vanessa Munro from the University of Warwick, who have undertaken research in five of our CPS Soteria Areas. The research included interviews with staff and stakeholders including police, barristers and independent sexual violence advisors.
The national operating model sets a new standard for prosecutors and operational delivery staff to follow, and it will provide greater consistency of approach nationally across the CPS. Our case progression and trial readiness strand are where specialist RASSO advocates should see the biggest impact. Under this strand we have agreed the following commitments:
- Having a nationally consistent approach to instructing prosecution advocates: This will include the provision of national guidance for those instructing prosecution advocates, ensuring better quality of instruction to counsel, and that our trial strategy and case information is effectively conveyed to the courtroom, thereby enhancing our ability to deliver justice.
- Have a dedicated Case Progression Manager: By resourcing Case Progression Managers in all our RASSO Units, we will ensure our prosecutors have the time and space to focus on case strategy, whilst our operational delivery staff focus on liaising across the criminal justice system to progress cases in a timely manner. We will also ensure a comprehensive learning package for our paralegals, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to carry out their role. This will include regular court attendance to increase their exposure to complex legal issues. These will ensure that RASSO advocates are better supported at court.
- Commit to having dedicated and sustainable resource in our RASSO Units: The complexities in prosecuting rape cases require a particular skill set, together with experienced prosecutors to deliver justice in every case. As part of the CPS rape programme, we have increased our specialist RASSO workforce dedicated to prosecuting these crimes. We are also committed to ensuring each of our units have a dedicated Legal Manager appointed to lead our teams of prosecutors. By doing so, we increase the level of experienced prosecutors, driving better casework, which we aim to translate to better engagement and trial strategy with counsel.
Better communication and support
We have also launched our RASSO advocate bulletin. We introduced this as part of our commitment to improve communications to you on matters of policy updates, training opportunities and noteworthy information relevant to RASSO advocacy. I hope you will find this a useful addition to our engagement with you all.
Our approach to RASSO work is not just about how we deal with cases but also how we support those undertaking this vital work. The CPS is a values-led organisation and has long recognised that support for the success and wellbeing of our people enables everyone to thrive. This principle extends not only to colleagues working within the CPS but also to members of the self-employed Bar and others who prosecute on our behalf and to whom we also have a duty of care.
Collaboration and wellbeing
Delivering justice for victims, witnesses, defendants and the wider public relies on us working collaboratively. The success of that collaboration is defined not just by what we do, but how we do it, including the appreciation and dignity we show one another. The CPS therefore acknowledges the overriding objective of the CBA Wellbeing Protocol in seeking to ensure that the criminal Bar continues to offer a flexible and professional public service, whilst also creating and sustaining safe and healthy working environments.
Although hugely rewarding, by its very nature, RASSO casework can be distressing for prosecutors and their wellbeing must be properly supported. To provide further support to RASSO advocates, CPS are in the process of offering access to parts of our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for all advocates dealing with potentially distressing casework. There will be a free 24/7 helpline where you can access free and confidential advice, support and signposting on a wide range of wellbeing issues.
We of course still face significant challenges in getting cases to trial expeditiously and improving experiences for victims. This will continue to require a collective effort and innovative thinking. For example, we are watching to see whether the specialist sexual violence support pilot at three Crown Courts – Leeds, Newcastle, and Snaresbrook in London – may help increase throughput of cases. I remain optimistic that initiatives like these and all of the work I have outlined above will all come together to improve the situation.
Max Hill KC has been the Director of Public Prosecutions since November 2018. He was previously the leader of the South Eastern Circuit (2014-16) and the chair of the Criminal Bar Association (2011-12).