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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-15393: Monica Lennon (Central Scotland)

Scottish Labour

Date lodged: 19 March 2018

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the finding in Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2016-17, which records that the rate of conviction for sexual crimes was 69%, which represents the lowest level since 2007-08.

Answered by: Michael Matheson 16 April 2018

The fall in the conviction rate for sexual crime is likely to reflect, in part, the changing nature of sexual offence cases being reported by Police Scotland to COPFS for consideration of prosecution. Since 2007-08, there has been a reduction of two thirds in the number of prosecutions for prostitution-related offences, for which the conviction rate has tended to be higher, and a doubling in the number of prosecutions for rape and attempted rape, for which the conviction rate has historically been lower reflecting in part the challenging evidential requirements of proving rape and attempted rape.

COPFS take a rigorous approach to sexual offending. It has specialist units which deal with sexual offending and its prosecutors are experienced in the investigation, analysis and presentation of these cases and it should be noted that over 40% more people were convicted for sexual offences in Scottish courts in 2016-17 than in 2007-08.

Steps have been taken to strengthen how our justice system deals with sexual offence cases. That includes modernising the law around sexual crime through the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 and giving victims of sexual offences automatic access to measures, such as screens and video links, when giving evidence.

In April 2017, provisions contained in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 came into effect, requiring judges to direct juries in certain sexual offence cases on how to consider evidence:

  • relating to a delay by the victim in reporting the offence, and
  • relating to a victim not putting up physical resistance to the perpetrator and/or the perpetrator not using physical force in carrying out the offence.

The judge must explain there may be good reasons why a victim may not report an offence immediately and good reasons why a victim may not physically resist their attacker, or why the perpetrator may not need to use physical force and that therefore it does not necessarily mean the allegation that the offence took place is false. This is intended to encourage juries to consider only relevant evidence in sexual offence cases, and not to be influenced by any pre-conceived ideas they may take into the jurors' room.