Specialist courts recommended for serious sexual crimes

Trauma-informed training would be given to staff from High Court judges.

Specialist courts recommended for serious sexual crimes Getty Images

A new national specialist court handling only serious sexual crimes has been recommended as a way to improve the judicial process for complainers.

The court would sit in cities and towns across the country in order to reduce the distance complainer have to travel.

Trauma-informed training would be given to staff from High Court judges to support them and pre-recorded interviews of the complainer would be used as evidence.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian has made several recommendations as part of a cross-justice review group.

Crown agent David Harvie said: “The introduction of a specialist sexual offences court would be an important step towards meaningful improvement in the delivery of justice in Scotland, for complainers, for accused, for society as a whole and is one that I fully support.”

The cases would be presided over by a combination of High Court judges and sheriffs who had received trauma-informed training in best practice in the presentation of evidence of vulnerable witnesses. 

The Court would have sentencing powers of up to 10 years imprisonment with a provision for remit to the High Court for sentencing higher than that if required.

Evidence from the complainer will be pre-recorded by specially-trained police officers as early as possible following the incident. 

This would reduce the need for the complainer to attend court.

Chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland Sandy Brindley said: “All too often survivors tell us that the process of seeking justice – and in particular their experience in court – is as least as traumatic as the attack(s) itself. It is clear that significant action is needed.

Other recommendations include better communication for complainers and appointing a single contact to help negotiate the judicial process.

Using plainer language to direct the juries ahead of their deliberations has also been suggested.

Detective chief superintendent Samantha McCluskey, of Police Scotland, said: “We are acutely aware of how difficult it can be to report sexual crime and we are continually working with partners on ways to improve the police response to reports of rape and sexual crime. 

“We are also fully supportive of wider measures that will improve the experience of victims and survivors of sexual crime throughout the criminal justice process.”

The review group suggested that further consideration could be given to the possibility of developing a time-limited pilot of single judge, rape trials to fully assess their effectiveness and how they are perceived by complainers, accused and lawyers from a practical perspective. 

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