Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has admitted that sex crimes in Scotland are still “under reported” as he unveiled more than £1 million of funding to improve the justice system’s handling of such cases.
It comes after concerns revealed by the Scotsman yesterday over the “low level” of prosecutions for cases of upskirting in Scotland, amid concerns of loopholes in flagship laws introduced to curb the problem.
Mr Yousaf says there has been a growth in sexual offences and the £1.1m will be used by The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) to cut the time taken to deal with such cases.
Yousaf said: “Many victims of sexual offences are understandably anxious about the criminal justice process and there is a risk that without appropriate support and reassurance the prosecution process can compound their trauma.
“That is why we are providing this extra funding to help ensure cases reach court as quickly as possible and to improve communication with victims.
“Despite the recent increase in sexual offence reports we know that such crimes continue to be under-reported. This additional funding is just one of the actions we have put in place to help give victims confidence to report crimes by ensuring they are offered support at each step of the process.”
It emerged yesterday that flagship upskirting laws have resulted in just three convictions a year since the offence was introduced eight years ago, prompting the Liberal Democrats to write to the Lord Advocate questioning whether the law in this area and guidance to prosecutors “remains fit for purpose”.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the extra cash announced yesterday is a response to “current and projected growth in reports of sexual crime” and complexity of such cases.
“It will be directed to reducing the time before court proceedings commence, and to improving the provision of information to complainers,” he said.
“This reflects the Crown’s commitment to improving the experience of victims of sexual crime in the criminal justice system; and to the effective and rigorous prosecution of sexual offences.”
Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: “With the increasing level of sexual offending cases proceeding to trial, the additional £0.3m for the SCTS will allow trials to start at the earliest opportunity and minimise the need for trials to be moved to other court locations, where it is not in the best interest of the complainer or witnesses.”