07:11, November 16 349 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-16 07:11:03
Call for radical reform of Scottish system for rape prosecutions

Rape Crisis Scotland has called for a radical overhaul of the handling of rape cases after an official report said many women found prosecutions traumatic and degrading.

A report by the Inspectorate of Prosecutions identified a series of weaknesses in the handling and prosecution of sexual offences in Scotland, with a high number of women “disengaging” from the system.

With sexual offences now making up 75% of the high court workload in Scotland, the inspectorate reported that victims felt the prosecution and court processes were “absolutely horrendous”, humiliating, and in one woman’s experience “worse than being raped”.

It found many cases were significantly delayed; there were long gaps in communication with rape victims; some were given “floating” dates for the trial, which were only fixed days before a hearing; court locations were changed at very short notice; and victims were expected to chase updates or request any special help. The inspectorate described this as “secondary victimisation”.

It made 12 recommendations for reform, including quicker, more focused handling of cases and far better support for victims. Rape Crisis Scotland said it believed the review’s evidence was so damning that more wide-ranging reforms were needed.

Sandy Brindley, the charity’s director, said that ought to include greater use of video testimony by complainers, including defence cross examination, at a far earlier stage in the process.

“What women are telling us is that their experience of the justice process, and particularly of giving evidence in court, is so traumatic that even in cases where there is a conviction, the cost of getting justice was too high. This is in no way acceptable,” she said.

“Not only is the current system re-traumatising rape complainers, but it is not getting the best evidence. If you were to design a system that get the worst evidence from rape complainers, it would be the current system.”

The inspectorate said workload dealing with sexual offences was at its highest level since 1971, while rates of most other types of recorded crime had fallen. Rape and attempted rape cases accounted for 17% of sexual offences, partly because their legal definition had widened, but the conviction rate was only 48% compared with 72% for all sexual offences.

Victims were also more confident about coming forward with complaints, while policing was much more proactive. Even so, 39% of recorded rapes were reported a year or more after the alleged attack, undermining the chances of a successful prosecution.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), which runs the prosecution system in Scotland, said it was reforming they way it worked because of the increasing number of sexual offence cases. Many of the cases examined in the report occurred before it introduced a new victim strategy earlier this year.

The lord advocate and solicitor general “attach a great deal of importance to ensuring we fulfil our obligations to victims”, a spokesman said. “There is more work to be done to ensure that every victim feels supported through the justice process – particularly children and vulnerable witnesses. COPFS is working with partners including Rape Crisis to make further improvements.”