Crime and punishment in Scotland: Reported rapes at five-year high, but convictions drop

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RAPE and attempted rape convictions have fallen by a third to their lowest level in a decade, while the number of cases reported to police have hit a five-year high, new figures have revealed.

Thirty-six people were convicted in 2010-11, down from 54 the previous year.

Meanwhile, separate figures show 1,131 rapes or attempted rapes were reported to police in Scotland last year – the highest since 2005-6.

Scotland’s chief statistician’s report showed convictions fell in most crime groups, with 115,398 people convicted for all crimes and offences in 2010-11, down 5 per cent on the previous year.

Fire-raising and vandalism convictions fell from 3,836 in 2009-10 to 3,351 last year.

Guilty verdicts or pleas for motor vehicle crime dropped from 45,980 to 44,064, and the number of offenders convicted of dishonesty fell from 15,971 to 15,606 in 2010-11.

The fall in rape convictions has been partly put down to last year’s Cadder ruling in the Supreme Court, which said suspects must be offered legal advice before being questioned by police.

Prosecutors need two independent pieces of evidence, corroborating a suspect’s guilt, to bring a case. Sex offences are rarely witnessed so they often relied on a suspect’s admission in police questioning.

However, since the Cadder ruling, suspects have often chosen to remain silent.

Lord Carloway, in a review of Scots law requested by the Scottish Government, has recommended the corroboration rule should be scrapped, which would make it easier to bring prosecutions in all cases, but particularly for sexual offences.

The Scottish Government introduced rape laws in December last year which appear to have triggered a rise in successful prosecutions.

Under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which widened the definition of rape to include offences against men and other forced sexual acts, 13 cases have been brought, with eight resulting in a guilty plea or verdict.

However, the decline in rape and attempted rape convictions overall, has been described as “deeply concerning”, and should act as “a wake-up call” for the Scottish Government, MSPs said.

David McLetchie, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, called for greater efforts to bring rapists to justice.

“It is disappointing to see that the number of rape convictions has dropped,” he said. “Rape is one of the most heinous crimes, and we must do all we can to ensure that those committing these crimes are brought to justice.”

Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Johann Lamont added: “What is most worrying is that if you scratch beneath the surface of these statistics, it is some of the most serious types of crime – violent crime and sexual assault – that are on the up.

“It is deeply concerning that despite the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported by police increasing last year to a five-year high, the number of offenders convicted has hit a ten-year low.

“These statistics should be a serious wake-up call for the SNP government to redouble its efforts to ensure those guilty of these horrific crimes are brought to justice.”

Scottish Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes said the decline in rape convictions should “raise questions over whether the criminal justice system serves everyone equally well”. “Rape blights the lives of victims and their families, yet these low conviction rates confirm the difficulty in securing justice in many cases,” she added.

“Collecting admissible and high-quality evidence that can bring a conviction is clearly a problem, and consideration must be given to more specialised support in that area.”

The Scottish Government said it had launched the national sex crimes unit to improve rape conviction rates.

A spokesman said: “Rape is a horrific crime, and we want to ensure that those that commit it are caught and victims are given justice.

“Last year we brought in the sexual offences act, which brought greater clarity to the prosecution of sexual crimes.”

A Crown Office spokeswoman added: “There has been an overall decrease in the number of cases in which proceedings were taken for rape or attempted rape. The number of cases in which proceedings were taken fell from 118 in 2009-10 to 81 in 2010-11; this is a decrease of 31 per cent.

“The Supreme Court ruling in the Cadder case has meant that in many cases essential evidence from admissions made by a suspect in police interview has been lost to the Crown.”