Scots law ‘more lenient on rapists of partners’

Sandy Brindley: Relationship 'not a mitigating factor'. Picture: Robert Perry
Sandy Brindley: Relationship 'not a mitigating factor'. Picture: Robert Perry
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RAPISTS of partners or ex-partners receive lower sentences than those who attack strangers, Scottish judges have admitted.

• Scottish judges admit that pre-existing or existing relationship in rape cases is mitigating factor

• Campaigners criticise “dishonesty” in sentencing of rapists of partners

The Court of Session said the attitude north of the border was “radically different” to England and Wales, where the starting point for sentencing rapes by strangers or partners is the same.

Lord Carloway highlighted previous Scottish cases where a “pre-existing and an existing sexual relationship had been regarded as a mitigating circumstance”. “(This) will require to be expressly addressed in any future consideration,” he added.

It has triggered criticism from rape campaigners.

Sandy Brindley, national coordinator at Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “Being raped by a partner or an ex-partner is in no way less serious or less traumatic than being raped by a stranger.

“It is important that the justice system recognises how harmful it can be, whether the attacker is a partner, someone known, or a complete stranger.

“We are strongly opposed to the idea that a pre-existing or existing sexual relationship in any way mitigates the seriousness of the crime.”

Graeme Pearson MSP, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, added: “It is unacceptable that Scottish courts seek to distinguish between stranger rape and rape where the parties have had a relationship.

“But more concerning is the automatic early release and further deductions for good behaviour which means a six year defence will simply never be served. The sentence handed down by a court bears no resemblance to that which will be served.

“It is that dishonesty at the heart of our criminal justice system which must be tackled.”

The Scottish Government has promised to look at the Court of Session ruling to see what lessons can be learned.

Judges, led by Lord Carloway, rejected a Crown Office appeal that a six-year term given to Stephen Cooperwhite, 35, who raped two former partners over several years of horrific abuse, was unduly lenient.

He raped a former wife while she was pregnant and diagnosed with placenta praevia.

The couple had been told by doctors that sex could have caused a haemorrhage, which could have been fatal to mother and child.

After they separated he met a new partner who he repeatedly raped, including in her sleep.

It was argued during the case that “familiarity” between Cooperwhite and his two victims warranted a “more lenient sentence”.

While this was not a key factor in the appeal judges’ decision, it was then discussed at length.

Lord Carloway admitted: “It is undoubtedly correct, as the respondent submitted, that the existence of both a pre-existing and an existing sexual relationship has been regarded by the court, in the past, as a mitigating circumstance.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is no law passed by Parliament that provides that it is a mitigating factor that a person convicted of a sexual offence was, or had been, in a relationship with the victim.

“We will give careful consideration to any implications for Scots criminal law of this judgment.”

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