A woman has spoken of her “overwhelming sense of injustice” after the legal requirement for corroboration allowed the man who allegedly raped her in childhood to escape prosecution.
Emma Bryson, 45, has waived her right to anonymity to speak about the abuse she suffered in the 1980s, beginning when she was just ten years old.
Writing in The Scotsman today, she says police re-investigated her case in 2016 only for prosecutors to decide last year that charges could not be brought due to a lack of corroborating evidence. She said the decision left her feeling “defeated” and “badly let down” by the system she hoped would give her justice.
The Scottish Government had planned to abolish corroboration – the centuries-old legal principle which requires two independent pieces of evidence for a case to come to court – before a re-think in 2015.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson removed the provision from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill after his predecessor, Kenny MacAskill, pushed for the change to increase rape conviction rates.
Ms Bryson said she was repeatedly raped by a member of her extended family when growing up in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute. She said: “I was ten years old when the abuse began and 14 when it finally came to an end. I went to the police a few months later but was told that I had waited too long for there to be any evidence, and so they weren’t able to take any action. At the time there was nothing else I could do and I had no option but to accept that.
“Reporting my abuse to the police all over again was not a decision I took lightly. In the end I did so because I had nothing to lose; 30 years is a long time to carry the guilt and shame of someone else’s actions. I wanted to see that guilt and shame transferred to the person who was actually responsible, and more than anything, I wanted to be free of it.”
She said the police had been “unfailingly supportive” during the year they spent investigating her case, and were able to find evidence of her abuse in social work records and other documents.
A number of people who had been aware of the abuse at the time gave statements to the police in her support, she said.
She added: “Had this taken place in England, then the man responsible would have been prosecuted on the strength of that evidence, but he wasn’t because in Scotland the law prevented this from happening.
“Almost a year has passed since the investigation concluded and I would like to say that I have been able to move on, but the truth is that I can’t. I still struggle with an overwhelming sense of injustice.
“I remind myself every day that I am a survivor, that I have lived through worse times and come through them, but I feel defeated and very bitter to have been so badly let down by a system that I had believed was intended to deliver justice.”
In a letter to Ms Bryson informing her of the decision not to prosecute, the Crown Office sought to assure her that its decision did not mean she was “not believed”.
It said: “Please also be assured that should there be any further evidence in the future this decision can be reviewed.”
Last week Rape Crisis Scotland renewed calls for corroboration to be scrapped after figures for 2016-17 showed there were 1,878 rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police but just 98 convictions.
Mr MacAskill, justice secretary from 2007 to 2014, said: “Corroboration has to go. It’s manifestly denying justice to tens of thousands of people, not just the victims of sexual crimes but the elderly, children and other vulnerable people. Its removal has been supported by our most senior judge and the required safeguards have been addressed by another senior judge. There’s no reason to delay further.”
Speaking to The Scotsman last year, Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the issue of corroboration was likely to be revisited as part of a “package of measures” being considered to improve the criminal justice system.
The Scottish Government backed away from scrapping corroboration in early 2015 to allow more time for the consideration of a report by Lord Bonomy which looked at legal safeguards.
Lord Bonomy’s recommendations included a requirement that police film all interviews with suspects and that the practice of dock identification – when the accused is identified as the perpetrator in court – be brought to an end.
Gordon Jackson, QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “I understand concerns in individual cases, but corroboration remains an important safeguard within our legal system.
“Whatever else, you cannot simply remove corroboration in isolation without looking at what other safeguards would need to be put in place.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “While the relatively low conviction rate for rape reflects, in part, the challenging evidential requirements to prove this crime, we will continue to seek to strengthen the law where possible, and how such cases are dealt with.”