New guidance on rape claim u-turns

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Rape and domestic violence victims should be able to report abuse without being prosecuted if they are later pressured into retracting the allegation, the top prosecutor in England and Wales has said.

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, said victims who retract allegations after being threatened by the suspect, or if there is a history of domestic violence, will be less likely to be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice under new guidelines.

But anyone making false claims out of malice or over a sustained period of time are more likely to face charges, he said.

"We recognise that complainants sometimes retract a true allegation due to pressure, violence or intimidation," Mr Starmer said.

"Prosecutors should always explore whether the original allegation was true and any background of domestic violence to which the complainant has been subjected."

Mr Starmer added that all cases where the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is considering prosecuting someone who has made a rape or domestic violence allegation should be referred to CPS headquarters any decision is made.

The new guidance comes after court rulings exposed failings in the system that had eroded public trust.

In one recent case, a 28-year-old mother was freed by the Court of Appeal from an eight-month jail term for "falsely retracting" rape allegations against her husband.

After the case the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said there should have been a "broad measure of compassion"' for a woman who had been "victimised".

"This is an extreme case and we hope that it will be very exceptional for cases of this kind to be prosecuted to conviction in the Crown Court," he said.

Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women's Aid, welcomed the new guidance, saying it would help ensure "survivors of violence against women are protected and not re-victimised by justice agencies".