A new specialist court should be created to deal with serious sexual offence cases in Scotland, a review has recommended.
The cross-justice review group recommends the court should operate with “trauma-informed” practices and procedures, with lawyers trained in dealing with vulnerable witnesses.
The review group was principally tasked with improving the experience of complainers in sexual offence cases within the Scottish court system, without compromising the rights of the accused.
Its report also recommends the presumed use of pre-recorded evidence which would be used in court as the complainer’s evidence, subject to court approval, thus reducing the need for the complainer to appear.
The Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, who chaired the review, said: “The wide-ranging review was prompted in particular by the growth in volume and complexity of sexual offending cases affecting all sections of the criminal justice system.
“We have made recommendations which we believe will fundamentally change and improve the way sexual offences are prosecuted in Scotland.
“I am grateful to the review group, and to all those who contributed to its work, for their commitment and openness, and for the ‘clean sheet approach’ members adopted in undertaking this task, which has enabled a full scope of recommendations to be made for the consideration of the Lord Justice General.”
At the proposed specialist court, 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.
Trauma-informed training for prosecutors and defence agents would include accredited courses in dealing with vulnerable witnesses and the use of examination techniques.
The court would have sentencing powers of up to ten years’ imprisonment with a provision for remit to the High Court for longer sentences if required.
The review also recommends measures to improve the current experience of complainers with a particular focus on improved communication and steps to enhance jury involvement.
It also proposes improvements to aspects of the Children’s Hearings System including a focus on the adoption of trauma-informed practice and the nationwide rollout of training for specialist recorded interviewing of children.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, 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.
“The report of the review group, chaired by Lady Dorrian, is important and necessary.
“The recommendations are bold, evidence-based and have the potential to transform Scotland’s response to sexual crime.
“This is a unique opportunity for Scotland to lead the way internationally in improving access to justice for people who have experienced sexual crime.”
The cross-justice review group includes representatives from the judiciary, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland, Police Scotland, Scottish Government and other organisations.
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. “