Briefing Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill | Rape Crisis Scotland
The prospect of giving evidence in a rape or sexual offence trial can be extremely daunting. Delays in cases coming to court can have a very detrimental impact for people reporting sexual crimes. Even before the current pandemic, Rape Crisis Scotland had serious concerns about delays in rape and attempted rape cases getting to court, with many people having to wait up to two years for their case to get to court. Lengthy delays, coupled with uncertainty about when they are going to be giving evidence, adds significantly to the trauma caused by the justice process. It also impacts on their ability to give their best evidence. We are gravely concerned about the impact on people reporting sexual offence cases of the current arrangements where no new jury trials are being held. Although we recognise the action taken by the court service was necessary, we are very concerned about the knock-on effect of such delays on the capacity of the courts which is likely to have long term consequences for all survivors seeking justice.
We are supporting a number of survivors through Rape Crisis Scotland’s National Advocacy Project who were due to have jury trials at the High Court within the next few months; we are concerned about the impact of these trials being delayed for an unspecified time period. This uncertainly is causing a great deal of distress for survivors who felt the end of the process was in sight.
Survivors often describe feeling stuck by the Criminal Justice Process and unable to move on with their lives and we worry about the impact of these delays on the mental health of the survivors affected. We know of a number of cases which have already had to be adjourned on a couple of occasions now being adjourned for a third or fourth time. These survivors could face a delay of a further 9 + months to a conclusion of the justice process. If nothing is done, there will be a huge backlog of cases when the courts do reopen to jury trials. The Lord Justice General estimates a backlog of over 1000 cases if the current restrictions are lifted by the start of the summer, a timescale which is by no means guaranteed. We are seriously concerned about what this will mean for people reporting rape and sexual offences.
We would urge members to vote in favour of the provisions in the emergency legislation permitting the use of judge led trials to allow for the most serious cases to proceed during this period.
Our focus at Rape Crisis during this exceptionally challenging period is working to minimise disruption for survivors accessing our services and to make sure anyone affected by sexual violence is able to reach out.
We have a responsibility to preserve the wellbeing of staff, survivors and the wider public, and to limit the spread of this virus.
That is why Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland have now stopped face to face support and have moved to support through phone, video or email. The exception to this rule is in Dundee where there is limited face to face contact for women accessing the Vice Versa service. If you are accessing Rape Crisis please contact your local centre to learn about any changes to local provision.
Some centres – particularly those in rural areas - are well used to using technology to help rise to geographical challenges but this is still an adjustment for us all. We are grateful for everyone’s patience as we work to resolve any technical issues that arise now, so that we can provide sustainable support throughout this situation.
In response to #COVID19 we are exploring how we can make support more accessible to you. Our helpline is still here, on the phone, by email and you can contact us by text. We want to make it as easy as possible for anyone affected by sexual violence to get in touch.
Call: 08088 01 03 02
Text: 07537 410027
To survivors: We know that this is a scary, uncertain and anxious situation and that many of the routines, coping mechanisms and distraction techniques that you rely on aren’t all possible right now. We are working on putting together some resources, but for now the only reassurance that we can offer is that this is temporary. This will not be forever, but for as long as it lasts and through the other side Rape Crisis will be right here with you.
Finally we want to send our deepest and heartfelt gratitude to all those carrying out essential work to bring an end to this crisis and to save lives, putting their own wellbeing at risk in doing so. Thank you.