Rape victims could be forced to give evidence against their will under new policy in Scotland

‘Confidence in the justice system is notoriously low; don’t make it worse,’ warn campaigners

Rape Crisis Scotland calls the policy a ‘step backwards’
Rape Crisis Scotland calls the policy a ‘step backwards’

Rape victims in Scotland could be forced to give evidence against their attackers under a new policy by the body that instructs Scottish prosecutors.

In a letter on the issue of “reluctant complainers”, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said prosecutors must give greater consideration to the risk a rapist poses to the public,

But campaigners and MPs from across the political spectrum said it would further harm survivors of assault and undermine faith in the justice system.

The COPFS letter said the “approach has developed that the complainer’s views are effectively determinative in the decision of whether or not to prosecute”.

Cases almost never proceed “in the face of reluctance” from the victim, it added.

Previous cases in the European Court of Human Rights showed “a prosecution service which treats disengagement as a reason for not persisting with a prosecution ... may be vulnerable if the accused goes on to commit further serious offences”, it said.

The COPFS said it may now resort to compelling victims to give evidence, although it said it tried to support them.

Responding with an open letter, Rape Crisis Scotland said the new policy, which has already come into force, was a “step backwards” and warned it could lead to the arrest of vulnerable people.

“It seems to us perverse that someone who has been through an extremely traumatic experience and demonstrates the courage and resilience to report this experience to the police is then faced with the prospect of having a warrant issued for her arrest,” it said.

“We are concerned that this policy violates the human rights of rape survivors. Rape complainers have described the court process as being ‘worse than being raped’.”

It also warned more victims would falsely retract their statements.

“Confidence of survivors of sexual violence in the justice system is notoriously low; don’t make it worse,” it said.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the judicial system had taken “one step forward, two steps back” on the issue of rape and urged the head of the COPFS, Lord Advocate James Wolffe, to “think again” about the treatment of victims of sexual assault.

“Women who are so scared and scarred by their experiences that the thought of telling their story over and over again is unthinkable,” she wrote in The Daily Record. “The idea of having their character cross-examined unbearable.

“Think about it for a second. Victims of rape would sooner see the perpetrator get away with it than face a court themselves.That’s how intimidating it is. The Crown should be expending their efforts working out what to do about that – not threaten to issue warrants for the victim’s arrest.”

The latest official statistics, published in February, revealed the conviction rate for rape and attempted rape in Scotland had fallen to its lowest level in eight years.

Only 39 per cent of cases taken to court in 2016/17 resulted in a guilty verdict, down from 49 per cent the previous year. The conviction rate is the lowest since 2008/09 when it was 37 per cent.

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