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RCS urges MSPs to support Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill provisions

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.