The prosecution of sexual crimes in Scotland is being reviewed, Lord Advoate Dorothy Bain QC said on Wednesday.
In an evidence session at the Criminal Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, she announced the review will look at how prosecutors deal with reports of sexual offences.
Bain said the review is in recognition of the profound impact that sexual crimes have on victims and on society, adding that sexual offences now account for 70% of the casework of Scotland’s High Court prosecutors.
Susanne Tanner QC, who has recently been appointed assistant principal crown counsel, will conduct the review.
The Lord Advocate also announced the Crown will carry out a separate review of its Victim Information and Advice service.
Bain said: “The World Health Organisation describes sexual violence against women as a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights which perpetuates gender inequality.
“Scotland has a lot to learn about attitudes towards women and the intolerable levels of sexual violence in society. There is a responsibility on all of us to do what we can to address these profound challenges.
“Scotland’s prosecutors work with justice partners as we strive to ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect.
“Furthermore, COPFS is committed to working with those partners to transform the way the criminal justice system deals with these cases.
Earlier this year, Scottish Government ministers were warned violence against women is a “national emergency” amid calls for misogyny to be recorded as a hate crime.
It comes after former Metropolitan Police firearms officer Wayne Couzens was jailed for life over the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
Following the case, Police Scotland said it would introduce an additional means of verification of officers to give reassurance to provide further reassurance to those who may feel vulnerable.
Figures released earlier this year by the Scottish Government show that just 43% of cases of rape and attempted rape in 2019-20 resulted in a conviction rate – compared to an overall rate of 88% for all crimes.
A review by Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian earlier this year issued a number of recommendations for how sexual offence cases are handled, including the creation of specialist courts
Bain said any legislative changes would be for MSPs rather than her to decide on.
Tanner QC, who will lead the sexual prosecution review announced on Wednesday, said: “I am honoured to have this opportunity to improve the experience of everyone involved in cases dealing with sexual offences in Scotland.
“I am determined that this review will further develop the prosecutorial response to sexual offending in a way which focuses on justice and is sensitive to the needs of victims.”
The remit of the review will be approved by Bain “in due course”, she told the Criminal Justice Committee, adding it would “will take into account the views of victims and agencies from across the criminal justice system”.