SNP ministers urged to accelerate reforms after sex offences hit 50-year high

SNP ministers are being urged to "accelerate" reforms after the number of sexual offences hit a 50-year high.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur insisted there are improvements the Government can undertake "with almost immediate effect", including around the anonymity of complainers.

It comes after statistics for 2021/22 showed the number of sex crimes increased by 15 per cent on the previous year, from 13,131 to 15,049.

This is the highest level since 1971, the first year for which comparable groups are available.

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However, the overall number of crimes recorded by Police Scotland fell by 4 per cent, from 299,452 to 286,464 – the lowest level seen since 1974.

In a letter to SNP justice secretary Keith Brown, Mr McArthur acknowledged “potential reforms to the management of sex offence cases are currently the subject of consultation”.

He said: “However, in light of the latest crime figures, which indicate a deeply troubling rise in these kinds of cases, it is worth restating that these reforms must now represent a key priority for the Scottish Government and that implementation should be accelerated as far as possible.

“In Scotland, sexual offence cases have now reached a 50-year high, even as the number of crimes being reported overall has dropped.

"The reporting of sexual crime is now at its highest level since 1971.

“People need to know that if they have been raped, abused or harassed, their case will be properly investigated.

"Right now, still too often, survivors may simply not see the point in coming forward. As a result, the truth remains that many survivors are being badly let down.”

He pointed to a review previously carried out by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, which recommended measures such as pre-recording witness evidence and providing better communication and information to victims of sexual crime.

Her review also said legislation should be introduced granting anonymity to alleged victims of rape or other sexual offences.

Mr McArthur wrote: “While some of these reforms may take longer to implement, Lady Dorrian indicated that it was possible to develop certain reforms more quickly.

"In particular, her report states that the benefits of pre-recorded evidence ‘cannot be disputed’ and that ‘this is a change which must be made as soon as possible’.

“I also believe that better communication and information for victims, as well as preserving the complainer’s anonymity, are both improvements that the Government can make with almost immediate effect.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it “recognises that the justice system can be distressing and re-traumatising, and we are committed to improving victims’ experiences wherever possible”.

He said: “We are running a consultation until August 5, inviting views on proposed reforms, including our commitment to introduce legislation protecting the anonymity of complainers in sexual offence cases.

“We will give careful consideration to the points made by Liam McArthur, alongside the responses to the consultation and the work of the cross-sector governance group established to explore the recommendations from Lady Dorrian’s Review.

"Some of these recommendations can – and are – being progressed now, including the expansion of pre-recorded evidence through implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses Act and the development of trauma-informed training.”

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