More women will seek justice through Scotland’s civil courts system in the wake of a landmark case in which a woman is seeking damages from a man cleared of raping her, it was claimed last night.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said she had “no doubt” increasing numbers of women would turn to the civil system amid frustration at the historically low conviction rate for such offences in the criminal justice system.
It comes as the woman, known as Miss M, confirmed she is pursuing a civil case against Stephen Coxen for personal injury. Mr Coxen was charged with raping the woman, a former student at the University of St Andrews, at her flat while she was intoxicated during Freshers’ Week five years ago.
In November 2015, a jury at the High Court in Glasgow found the case against him not proven, a verdict which has the same effect in law as not guilty.
Miss M’s civil action is believed to be the first time since 1926 that a woman has launched a civil action in Scotland after an unsuccessful rape prosecution.
Last January, Denise Clair from Livingston brought a successful civil action against former Scotland international footballer, David Goodwillie, and his ex-Dundee United colleague, David Robertson. At the Court of Session in Edinburgh, judge Lord Armstrong ruled the two men had raped her and ordered them to pay £100,000 in damages. Ms Clair took the action after the Crown Office decided against a prosecution.
Ms Brindley said that case, coupled with Miss M’s ongoing action, has raised awareness of the civil courts avenue. Her organisation has been contacted by several women who are considering mounting their own civil actions.
She described the number as a “handful”, but stressed: “It’s not going to be a huge amount of women, but I have no doubt this is not going to be the last civil case that we’ll see.”
She added: “There are a lot of people who feel very let down by the criminal justice system, and I think the fact there is now going to be a second civil case in as many years will make other rape survivors view it as an option to get some form of justice.
“I think we will see more people turning to the civil system. It’s not for everyone and it’s not an easy process, but at least it’s a chance for justice who feel they’ve been let down by the criminal system.”
In the latest case, due to begin next month, Miss M has mounted an action at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, and is seeking just under £100,000 in damages and financial losses.
She has received funding to cover her costs by the Scottish Legal Aid Board as well as the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Rape Crisis Scotland.
In an interview with the BBC, Miss M said yesterday that she was not looking for financial gain, but justice.
“I feel that the criminal case did fail me and I hope that through this a spotlight will be shone on the process,” she said. “Hopefully the civil route will get some justice for me and my family.
“For me it has never been about the money. It is the only route I have left. It is an extremely difficult process to go through.
“I did think after the criminal trial that I wouldn’t be able to continue and carry on into another avenue of legal proceedings but I wasn’t ready to give up.”
She added: “I don’t want to look back in 20 years and realise I could have gone down a different route. I want to do all I can do at the moment.”
Mr Coxen’s lawyers, Thorley Stephenson in Edinburgh, confirmed he would be defending the action but declined to comment further.
There are no official statistics recorded as to the number of such civil actions raised, pending or otherwise, although the Law Society of Scotland has said many civil cases end in settlement before they reach court.