'Full review' announced into how Scottish prosecutors deal with sexual offence cases

Scotland's most senior law officer has announced a "full review" of how prosecutors deal with reports of sexual offences.

Dorothy Bain QC, who was appointed Lord Advocate earlier this year, said there had been a "clear and obvious" rise in such cases before the pandemic.

She said the Covid crisis has had a "significant" impact, with 837 serious sexual offence cases awaiting trial in the High Court as of September 30.

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The High Court in Edinburgh

Giving evidence to Holyrood' s criminal justice committee, Ms Bain said: "Scotland has a lot to learn about attitudes towards women and the intolerable levels of sexual violence in society.

"There is a responsibility on all of us to do what we can to address these profound challenges.

"The volume of serious sexual offence cases indicted and awaiting trial was significant before the coronavirus situation.

"There has been a clear and obvious upward trend in these cases, which doubled in the two years up to March 2020, when trials were suspended.

"The pandemic has had significant consequences for the justice system, with increased delays in cases calling for trial, and the uncertainty over whether trials will proceed in a given day causing anxiety and distress to victims and witnesses."

Ms Bain said she had commissioned Susanne Tanner QC to become Assistant Principal Crown Counsel and to conduct "a full review of how prosecutors deal with reports of sexual offences".

She said: "Secondly, the changing profile of prosecution case work and the backlog created by the pandemic have placed huge pressures on the Crown's victim information staff.

"I am pleased to announce that the Deputy Crown Agent, Lindsey Miller, will lead a review of this work to ensure that this service can continue to deliver the high levels of support and advice to all victims and witnesses that they do currently."

Ms Bain said she was confident the two measures would lead to "long-term improvements".

Elsewhere, she repeated her call for a debate around scrapping juries in rape cases.

She previously told Holyrood magazine: “I do think sexual crime requires a different and distinct approach and it needs to be trauma informed.

“We need to have a properly informed debate. Judge-led trials don’t impact on the right to a fair trial, [but] we need to look at the suitability of a jury to prosecute a case.”

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