Increases in sex offences are not due to more historical cases emerging after the Jimmy Savile scandal but reflect a sustained change in behaviour, according to the lord chief justice.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd believes improvements in the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system are encouraging more people to report sexual assaults.
Giving his annual press conference at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the most senior judge in England and Wales said the sustained growth was due to contemporaneous cases.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics for the year ending June 2015 showed there were 31,621 rapes and 63,861 other sexual offences in England and Wales, the highest level since the national crime recording standard was introduced in 2002/03.
The Crown Prosecution Service has said it has seen the “highest volume ever” of cases involving violence against women and girls. Convictions last year increased by 17%.
“The rise in sexual offences is continuing,” Thomas said. “Some people thought it was because of historic crimes. The view now taken is that this is not right but that there’s an increasing [amount] of sexual offending … which is contemporaneous. I have no doubt that the way in which we have improved the treatment of witnesses at the police station, by the prosecution authorities and in court [have contributed to the rise].
“Although there’s a long way to go, people may be more willing to take their complaints to court. We have made giving evidence better, [although it remains] a horrible experience.”
Pilot projects in Kingston, Liverpool and Leeds, where victims are cross-examined shortly after an attack and the exchanges recorded to be shown later to a jury, will be expanded, the lord chief justice implied. They help victims to “move on with their lives”, he said.
“Rise in sex crimes not due to historical cases, says lord chief justice”