Call for rape victims be given legal representation in Scotland due to 'unacceptable' gap in justice system

Campaigners are calling for victims of rape and sexual assault to be given legal representation amid claims there is an “unacceptable gap” in the justice system.

Labour MSP Katy Clark has lodged a Private Members’ Bill in the Scottish Parliament after she said many survivors found the legal process retraumatising.

She said there should be non means-tested legal support available from the initial stages of the process for victims of rape, attempted rape and other serious sexual offences.

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The West of Scotland MSP said there was a low conviction rate in rape cases and “the lack of legal support and representation for victims of rape and sexual assault, is an unacceptable gap in our criminal justice system”.

Labour MSP Katy Clark calls for legal representation for victims of rape and sexual assault.

Ms Clark added: “Victims of rape repeatedly talk about the trauma they have experienced in the legal system, which is made so much worse by this lack of support and access to legal advice and representation.

"If we are to address the poor treatment of women and girls in rape and sexual assault cases, the legal process needs to be dramatically improved for victims.

"Legislating to make non means-tested legal support available during that process would be a long overdue change to our criminal justice system."

Miss M, the woman at the heart of the first civil rape case in Scotland following a not-proven verdict at a criminal trial, is supporting the call.

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, Miss M said: “I think it’s a great idea that legal representation non means-tested should be provided to victims of rape and serious sexual offences.

“From going through a criminal trial followed by a civil case, seeing the differences and actually the invaluable support I had from the Scottish Women’s rights centre who was my legal team, I saw the difference.

"Ultimately, my experience in the criminal trial without that was made quite a lot worse and I think my process could have been so much better if I had that legal representation and someone in my corner."

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Miss M won a landmark civil action in 2018 against a man who raped her at St Andrews University in 2013, after an earlier criminal trial ended in a not-proven verdict.

She said: "I was a teenager at the time, I had been raped by a stranger. I had never gone through anything like this before and then you’re someone about to go into court.”

Miss M said the emotional and practical support was present in forms of organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland. However, she said “having someone explain quite intricate processes of the legal system and the questions that could be asked” was missing.

She said: "I just felt like a witness to the rape that happened to me and that shouldn’t be the case.

"We need to be empowered and we need to have voice so we can speak to someone.

"It’s such a horrific process to go through. Why should we not have someone in our corner like the accused do?”

In other countries, victims are offered legal aid support to help them through the court process.

The Scottish Government said it was committed to improving rape and sexual assault survivors' experiences of the justice system.

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