Our written evidence on the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill
We have published written evidence on the Scottish Government’s Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill (Scotland). Our evidence sets out what survivors have told us they think of the bill and the impact we believe it could have on the experiences of survivors seeking justice.
Our evidence was informed by the perspectives of survivors of sexual violence from across Scotland who shared their views about the bill with us and what difference they feel it could make for survivors’ experience of the Scottish justice system. Our evidence was also shaped by Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland, who work with survivors going through the justice system every day.
Thanks go to all the survivors and Rape Crisis Workers who shared their thoughts and experiences with us.
This is not a perfect bill, but we do believe it takes a meaningful and very welcome step towards making accessing justice fairer for survivors of sexual violence. That these proposals are even on the table is thanks to years of campaigning for change from survivors.
Our evidence covered a wide range of topics covered by the Bill and you can read our submission in full here. The most significant points are:
Single judge pilot
We are supportive of a pilot of single judge trials in Scotland for sexual offences. We emphasise that we support a pilot of this scheme where it can be tried out and its efficacy judged.
Single judge trials would provide written reasons for their decisions. Currently, survivors are left with no justification or reasoning for a jury’s decision. Some survivors feel they never understand why they did not receive a guilty verdict.
Some survivors did raise concerns with us that single judge trials could result in more appeals being made from perpetrators who receive a guilty verdict in such a trial. Survivors were concerned that the fact that the scheme would be a pilot could make it easier for perpetrators to claim they experienced a miscarriage of justice. Concerns were also raised about some judges potentially holding discriminatory beliefs
Rape Crisis Scotland has been campaigning for the Not Proven verdict to be scrapped since 2018. Thanks go to Miss M for her tireless work on this issue.
The Not Proven verdict can leave survivors feeling like they don’t understand the decision made by the jury or their reasoning. Some survivors described feeling confused about what the jury actually thought of their case after receiving a Not Proven verdict.
At present, juries are made up of 15 people, eight of whom must return a guilty verdict for a conviction to be made. Under the new prposals, juries would be made up of 12 people, eight of whom must be persuaded of guilt for a conviction to be made.
We have concerns that this would negatively impact victims of rape as rape cases have very low conviction rates and it can be difficult to persuade juries to convict, even in the face of considerable evidence.
Specialist courts for sexual offences
We welcome the proposal to introduce specialist courts for sexual offences in Scotland but emphasise that these courts must work in a way which is genuinely trauma informed.
Everybody working in such a court must be trained in trauma informed practice and there must be a system in place for ensuring that staff are appropriate persons to be working in such an environment.
Survivors felt that, if juries were used in these courts, these juries must also be trauma informed. This means juries understanding the impact of sexual violence as well as the impact trauma can have on how a survivor presents evidence.
Survivors also raised concerns about how the courts would be delivered. There are still outstanding questions as to whether the courts will be physical buildings or a specialist way of delivering a trial but held within the existing court estate.
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