‘Rape complainers deserve better’ say sex crime campaigners

Sex crimes have been steadily rising and now account for about 75 per cent of  Crown Office and Prosecution Service work in the High Courts. Picture: Model
Sex crimes have been steadily rising and now account for about 75 per cent of Crown Office and Prosecution Service work in the High Courts. Picture: Model
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Sex crime campaigners are calling for a radical overhaul of the justice process after a report yesterday identified the “high number” of rape and sexual assault victims who cannot face the “trauma and degradation” of appearing in court.

One victim told the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland, which compiled the report, that their ordeal in court was worse than the rape itself.

The Inspectorate’s inquiry into the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences calls for a range of improvements in the system. A lack of communication with victims has been highlighted, while prosecutors fail to fully explain the court system to victims who are unfamiliar with its workings.

The report includes stark testimony from rape victims who were left traumatised by their experience of the justice system, including one who said: The language is not understandable. I had to educate myself using Google.”

Another added: “In our court system you are totally humiliated. It was the most degrading experience I have been through.”

One woman stated that despite the guilty verdict, she would “never” go through the experience of court again.

Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland said: “What women are telling us is that their experience of the justice process, and particularly of giving evidence in court, is so traumatic that even in cases where there is a conviction, the cost of getting justice was too high. This is in no way acceptable.”

Trials often take place up to two years after an offence has been reported to police, the report found, with court dates also change frequently at short notice, meaning victims can be building themselves up to give evidence only to be told the night before that their appearance won’t be going ahead after all.

Even the city where complainers are earmarked to give their evidence can be changed at short notice by courts.

The system of rape prosecution has been undergoing reform for the past two decades in an effort to drive up the low conviction rates.

But Ms Brindley added: “If we are to improve confidence in Scottish justice responses to rape then it is time to stop tinkering around the edges and commit to radical changes. Rape complainers deserve better.”

Sex crimes have been steadily rising in Scotland as more victims come forward. They now account for about 75 per cent of the Crown Office and Prosecution Service’s (COPFS) work in the High Courts. 

The Crown Office is reforming the way it works to take account of this increase in cases.

A spokeswoman said: “Most of the cases examined by the report date from a time before the implementation of COPFS new Victim Strategy which was introduced earlier this year. The Law Officers attach a great deal of importance to ensuring we fulfil our obligations to victims.”

The report warns that the frequency of communication with prosecutors does not meet the expectations of many victims. It calls for a more proactive approach, which is tailored to individual vulnerabilities and needs. The method and timing of communication should be agreed with victims at the outset, it adds.

There is also an “unrealistic expectation” by prosecutors of victim and witnesses’ understanding of the court process, with too much use of legal jargon which can confuse victims and witnesses leading to a sense of “separation and detachment.”
Information provided should be readily accessible to those who are unfamiliar with the legal system.

Many victims also felt “unprepared” for the trial process.

The Inspectorate is calling for court management strategy tailored to witnesses which would allow them to give them best evidence.

HM Chief Inspector Michelle Macleod said: “We found many dedicated professionals in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service seeking to achieve the best outcome for each case, challenged by unprecedented numbers of serious sexual crimes, a climate of budgetary restraint and an increasingly complex criminal justice system.

“However, the high number of victims who disengage during the criminal justice process, after taking the significant step to report such crimes, infers that more could be done by the criminal justice system, in which COPFS is arguably the key organisation, to secure their participation.”