Boris Johnson apologised to rape victims for the trauma and delays they have faced in securing justice before coming under fire for labelling questions on the issue as “jabber”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions to focus on record-low convictions for rape and lesser offences in England and Wales.
Ministers have set out plans for a “system and culture change” following a major review of the justice system’s approach to such offences, with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland among those to apologise.
Sir Keir warned that victims of rape are being “failed” and told MPs that 98.4% of cases do not result in a charge, a figure he labelled “appalling” before pressing for further action.
Mr Johnson insisted that efforts are continuing to toughen sentences and to boost the number of people in the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with such crimes.
The Prime Minister told the Commons: “There are considerable evidential problems, particularly in recovering data from mobile phones, and that has been an obstacle to the speedy preparation of cases.
“Too often, let’s be frank, cases go from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service not in a fit state and too often those cases are not in a fit state to come to court, and there is not a good enough join-up across the criminal justice system.
“And that is exactly what we’re addressing by our investments and by our end-to-end rape review.”
Mr Johnson also told MPs: “We’re recruiting record numbers of police officers, and I’m proud to say that 40% of our new recruits are female, which I believe will be a great consolation and use to those who are victims and survivors of rape.”
Sir Keir argued that cuts in the criminal justice system since 2010 have caused problems, and repeatedly asked what the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will do beyond tougher sentences for sexual offenders to actually improve prosecution rates.
He went on: “On the Prime Minister’s watch, rape prosecution convictions are at a record low, court backlogs are at a record high, victims are waiting longer for justice and criminals are getting away with it.
“This wasn’t inevitable; it’s the cost of a decade of Conservative cuts, and even now the Government isn’t showing the urgency and ambition that’s needed.”
Sir Keir highlighted Mr Buckland’s apology and said: “I note the Prime Minister hasn’t done that today. It’s time he did, that he took some responsibility and backed it up with action. Will he do so?”
Mr Johnson said he had “fought” for tougher action against rapists and sexual offenders throughout his time as mayor of London, adding: “Of course, to all the victims of rape and sexual violence, all the victims and survivors, of course I say sorry for the trauma they have been through, the frustration that they go through because of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system.
“We are fixing that by investing another £1 billion in clearing the court backlogs, in ensuring that they have people they can listen to and trust who will help them through the trials of the criminal justice experience, but above all we’re helping them by getting our courts moving again.”
Mr Johnson, in his pay-off line, said: “We’re getting on with the job – they jabber, we jab. They dither and we deliver. They vacillate and we vaccinate.”
Shadow Home Office minister Jess Phillips said in a statement: “For the Prime Minister to describe questions about rape convictions as ‘jabber’ is disgraceful.
“But this is the man who once said investigating child sexual abuse was ‘spaffing money up the wall’ – he simply doesn’t care about tackling sexual violence.
“He should apologise for his comments and his Government’s appalling record.”