Whitehall row derails rape law reform

Harriet Harman calls off review announcement after Home Office wrangle
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Harriet Harman was at the centre of a government row last night over moves to increase the conviction rate for rape.

The Deputy Labour Leader had been preparing to announce today a review of the way rape cases are handled by police and courts. Ms Harman, who is also Equalities minister, planned to set out detailed action to raise the conviction rate, which is currently just 6 per cent. But the moves have been postponed until the autumn amid signs Whitehall is wrangling over the plans.

Ms Harman is understood to have delayed the move, accusing the Home Office of failing to come up with sufficiently radical proposals. There are also believed to be tensions on the issue between the Deputy Labour Leader and the Ministry of Justice.

On Monday, Downing Street had signalled that Ms Harman would be making an announcement concerning the legislation on rape on Wednesday. Plans were being drawn up for her to travel to Manchester to visit a sexual assault referral centre.

However last night it was not clear whether Ms Harman, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of government while Gordon Brown is on holiday, would be carrying out the engagement. In Whitehall, sources blamed the delay on officials – rather than ministers – at the two departments. One told The Independent: "They haven't got it right. This sort of thing always happens in the recess."

Both Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, are on holiday. The source added that the terms of the review would be published later this year, once it had been agreed by the relevant departments. The Government will instead today announce that it is awarding an extra £3.2m to help victims of sexual violence.

Nearly £1.7m will be used to set up and support sexual assault referral centres, with the rest going to rape support crisis centres.