Scotland’s leading law officer has said the prosecution of sexual offences “just isn’t good enough” as she pushed for the creation of a separate court.
Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC appeared before Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday to give evidence on the Government’s legal reform Bill.
The Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill would create the separate sexual offences court, as well as provide legal anonymity to the victims of sexual offences and pilot judge-only rape trials, if passed.
The Lord Advocate – who serves as both Scotland’s head of prosecutions and the Government’s top legal officer – said the creation of a separate court was “the way forward”, as she urged MSPs to “build what’s required” for the victims of sexual offences.
“What’s happening at the moment just isn’t good enough,” she said.
“All the effort that’s been made over the years to bring in changes such as the rape shield provisions, changes such as the specialisation in the way that we take evidence, evidence by commission, supportive measures for vulnerable witnesses, none of that has shifted the dial on the basic problems that remain.”
She said these are “complainers’ anxiety about becoming involved in any way in the criminal justice process, about the re-traumatisation in the process that’s currently in place and the lack of understanding, the lack of support they have and that they are abandoned and that justice isn’t there for them”.
“We’ve a section of society that says ‘justice is not there for me’ – let’s go about changing that radically and create a court that’s just for that purpose,” she said.
The Lord Advocate also spoke about the level of violence against women and girls seen in Scotland, saying there needs to be a societal as well as legal change to stem the tide.
“We need the sort of change this Parliament is interested in, but in addition to that, we must as a society overcome the cultural attitudes that allow prolific abuse of women and girls to occur within plain sight,” she said.
“We need change here, but we need societal change too, and I think it has to be a combination of both.”
The Lord Advocate went on to detail a case of a man with a history of domestic abuse from the age of 14, who went on to murder his partner, beating her to death with a tyre iron which was prosecuted last year.
A further six of the man’s former partners gave evidence about the levels of abuse they suffered at his hands.
“That is exemplary of the type of cases we are seeing in the High Court and it tells you why we need to say to ourselves as lawyers, as parliamentarians, as those who serve the public … what do we do to sort this out?
“We need to make a radical change.
“It’s not good enough to say everything’s fine – it simply is not.”
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