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Scotland: judicially led review announced

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Lady Dorrian, review, develop new proposals, management, sexual offences, dealt with, Scottish criminal justice systemAction on improving rape survivors experience of the justice system “necessary and urgent”.

A judicially led review, chaired by Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk, and the second most senior judge in Scotland, has been announced that aims to develop new proposals for how sexual offences are dealt with in the Scottish criminal justice system.

The review group – which will be made up of judiciary and representatives of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), justice agencies and third sector organisations including Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Victim Support Scotland – will look at the opportunities to manage cases in a way which is efficient, delivers justice as locally as possible at the earliest opportunity, and improves the experience of complainers in giving their evidence.

The group will consider what distinguishes sexual assault cases from other criminal cases and how court process and the experiences of complainers and witnesses can be improved without compromising the rights of an accused.

The group will begin work in April, according to Lady Dorrian, and expects to be in a position to report in early 2020.

It is a review of the management of sexual offence cases as they proceed through court, not a review of sexual offence sentencing.

The review will include potential changes to Court and judicial structures, skills development and procedure and practices.

The number and complexity of sexual offence cases which come to court has significantly increased and this growth is expected to continue; the vast majority of High Court trials now relate to sexual offences and a significant volume of sexual assault cases are tried under solemn procedure in the sheriff courts.

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, commissioned the review to develop proposals for an improved system to deal with all sexual offence cases following discussions with the Lord Advocate and the Cabinet Secretary.

Lady Dorrian said: “This is an opportunity for all the organisations involved to look at the overview of sexual offences prosecuted in our courts and deliver an improved approach to ensure that these cases are dealt with as efficiently and effectively as possible for all concerned. It will also consider how to improve the experience of victims when giving their evidence.”

Rape Crisis Scotland said it consistently hears that many survivors feel let down by the justice process.

Commenting on the announcement of the review, Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “We are hopeful about the potential this review brings because it is impossible to underestimate just how necessary and urgent action on improving rape survivors experience of the justice system is.

“What is especially welcome is the approach of Lady Dorrian in looking at the prosecution of sexual offences cases with a blank slate – this gives all of us the opportunity to think creatively and imagine a system that protects both the human rights of those accused of serious sexual crime, and those who are complainers.

“It’s never going to be easy to pursue justice following rape or sexual violence, but there are concrete actions that can be taken to reduce the trauma currently experienced by complainers.

“We look forward to working closely with Lady Dorrian and the whole group on this important issue,” Brindley added.

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