Only one in 14 reported rapes leads to trial
ONLY one in 14 reported rapes in Scotland is taken to court, according to new figures that have triggered calls for a national inquiry into why so many cases collapse.
Statistics seen by The Scotsman reveal that 922 rapes were reported to police in 2006-7, but only 65 of the alleged crimes were prosecuted.
They also show huge regional variations in the proportion of cases that end up in court, from 19 per cent in Dumfries and Galloway to 1.7 per cent in Tayside.
Rape Crisis Scotland yesterday called for an "attrition study" by independent experts to find out why so many rape cases fall away at various stages in the criminal justice system.
Of the 65 cases that were prosecuted, 27 ended in a guilty plea or verdict – giving Scotland a 2.9 per cent conviction rate, one of the lowest in Europe.
The Crown Office has carried out a detailed review into rape prosecution, while the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland undertook its own investigation.
Both produced a list of recommendations which are being implemented. For example, about 500 prosecutors and fiscal-service staff are undertaking specialist training to boost the chances of rapes being successfully prosecuted.
Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland co-ordinator, said an independent inquiry was needed to ensure every aspect of the system – from the police to the courts – was no longer failing victims.
She said: "A prosecution figure of 7 per cent for rape is extremely low. What this means is the vast majority of rape cases never make it as far as court. No-one can suggest with any credibility that the vast majority of women reporting rape are lying.
"Rape is a crime which can take a lot of courage to report, and it can come as a shock for women to hear that their case is not being prosecuted."
She acknowledged the "many important steps" the Crown Office had taken to improve the prosecution of sexual offences cases, but added far better information about the stages in the justice system where cases were being dropped was needed.
"This includes looking at the initial response from the police right through to what happens in court, if the case gets this far. Rape Crisis Scotland is calling for a comprehensive and independent study into attrition in rape cases in Scotland. Until we know exactly what the problem is – why so many cases are falling down – it's hard to see how we can know what the solutions are likely to be," said Ms Brindley.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Office said Scottish police forces were working to national guidelines on the investigation of rape.
"There are a variety of reasons why rapes reported to the police do not result in a prosecution in Court – and these apply across the country."
She said fiscals were required to report all rape cases to senior experienced Crown Counsel, who took the decision on whether to proceed to trial. A decision to take no proceedings, or no further proceedings, could only be taken by the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General.
Some reported rapes also end in a conviction for other offences, such as indecent assault and attempted rape, she added.
A Crown Office report into rape cases found that about one-third of reported crimes passed from police to procurators-fiscal made it to court.
The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, said: "There should be no doubt that we will gather all available evidence in the public interest and, where we have sufficient evidence to bring before a court, we will present a compelling prosecution case."
However, the independent MSP Margo MacDonald backed the call for an independent inquiry. "I'm supportive of an independent inquiry," she said. "Instances of rape, or at least allegations of rape, are too numerous for us to accept 7 per cent of cases ever being prosecuted. That doesn't make sense at all."
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