CBA RASSO Survey Results – 12.02.24
To reduce the backlog court capacity must outdo demand. This necessitates more trained barristers to undertake the work. Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (“RASSO”) cases have increased to 10.3% of all cases entering the Crown Court with the number of RASSO cases in the backlog up at 9792, one in 7 of backlogged cases. The average wait for a RASSO case to go to trial has gone up to an average of 18 months after charge. Yet the falling numbers of criminal barristers undertaking publicly funded work, decreasing year on year in a profession where 40% are aged over 50, has accelerated to hit a crisis point in RASSO work. We know this because:
- The number of RASSO trials adjourned due to lack of a Prosecution or Defence barrister has increased more than ten-fold since 2019 with 184 now ineffective on the day of trial for the first nine months of 2023 (Govt data to 30/09/2023).
- The CPS has been forced to instruct King’s Counsel to prosecute RASSO cases where there was no available RASSO Counsel.
We wanted to find out why this was happening. The CBA RASSO survey was therefore sent to all practising members of the Criminal Bar Association and primarily completed by all those who have ever conducted a RASSO case, either prosecuting or defending.
A total of 780 criminal barristers completed the survey which was open from Monday 15th January to Sunday 4th February 2024.
Approximately 57% of responses were from men and 43% from women barristers.
A total of 543 of 780 responses came from criminal barristers with 18 or more years of Call and those in silk, reflecting considerable experience as specialist RASSO barristers.
The survey found:
- 64% of Prosecutors completing our survey said at renewal they will not be reapplying to be on the RASSO List. Only 246 RASSO Prosecutors who completed the survey said they would remain on the List in the future.
- 34% of Defence RASSO Counsel said they no longer want to conduct these cases.
- 53% of those who conduct Section 28 cross-examination do not want to carry on, with over half of those saying this was down to lack of remuneration for the work involved.
- Overall 6 out of 10 surveyed cited poor fees as the reason for refusing to conduct RASSO cases.
- Half of all those surveyed pointed to poor well-being as the cause for refusing to conduct RASSO cases.
Current and future intentions:
- Two thirds of all respondents (67%) said they will not currently consider accepting more RASSO cases.
- Over three quarters (78%) of respondents under 5 years Call said they will not consider building a RASSO practice.
- One third (34%) of respondents said they had reduced their RASSO practice in this past year.
- 46% of respondents cite the reason for reducing RASSO work as insufficient remuneration, 46% diary complications, 42% listing difficulties, 32% wellbeing.
- Two thirds of Prosecution Counsel (64%) said that they will not reapply to the CPS panel of approved RASSO prosecutors when their renewal is due – that includes those who are currently on CPS panel lists or who have previously prosecuted for the CPS.
- Only one third (36%) currently on the CPS RASSO panel said they would re-apply.
- Only 246 criminal barristers who are currently approved to prosecute on behalf the CPS said that they will make themselves available for CPS panel lists to prosecute RASSO cases.
- Nearly two thirds (62%) of those who prosecute cited insufficient remuneration, 50% also cited wellbeing as affecting their decision not to reapply to prosecute RASSO cases.
- Over 4 in 10 (42%) of those who take on publicly funded RASSO defence cases do not intend continue to do so. [Pay is set by Government under Criminal Legal Aid Advocacy fees, AGFS]
- Over half (52%) cited insufficient remuneration as a reason for this, 36% wellbeing, 30% listing difficulties.
Fees for RASSO cases must be increased, to respect the complexities of evidence handling and to recognise their inherent seriousness if we are to retain and recruit the specialist Counsel needed. We have submitted an urgent request for increased RASSO fees to the CLAARB but the MoJ must act quickly.
We at the CBA will do our part to provide new RASSO training and with the support of the Bar Council and other stakeholders will help re-set the Criminal Justice System for victims, complainants and defendants. Providing a visible swift justice system that people can trust must start with reducing the backlog which is a goal that can only be achieved by properly remunerating those dedicating themselves to it.
The Criminal Bar Association is calling a National Zoom Meeting of its membership and to take place on Tuesday 5th March at 18.30hrs in order to discuss next steps as a professional body whilst representing the views and interests of the practising members of the Criminal Bar in England and Wales.
All RASSO Counsel and their clerks are invited to join this meeting, as are members who have been deterred from accepting RASSO cases for one reason or another.
The access link for the meeting will be circulated on the day of the meeting.
In addition we have arranged for a dedicated email address for those of you on the frontline conducting RASSO cases to send us your current examples of where the system is failing your complainants, clients and other vulnerable groups. These most recent examples will be provided to Ministers and others in support of our submissions.
Thank you to all Counsel for all that you are doing, we look forward to seeing as many RASSO Counsel as possible at the National Zoom.
In the meantime look after yourselves and be excellent as always!
Tana Adkin KC
The Criminal Bar Association