Lord Advocate: Protection of sex crime victims is priority

The Lord Advocate has welcomed a report into how prosecutors apply provisions which regulate the use of evidence relating to the sexual history or character of complainers in sexual offence trials.

The provisions are designed to protect complainers from irrelevant and often distressing questioning when they are giving evidence. This protection is the responsibility of defence and prosecution lawyers as well as the presiding judge. 

The report, published by the independent HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland has made eight recommendations for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). The Lord Advocate has accepted the recommendations. We have already started work and made good progress on a number of these. 

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said: 

“I am grateful to the Inspectorate for doing such a thorough piece of work on this important topic. It is a priority for all prosecutors that complainers are treated with dignity and respect, and that they are not subjected to inappropriate questioning during a trial. 

“The observations and recommendations made in relation to engagement with complainers are of particular interest to me. COPFS is committed to improving the experience of complainers in serious sexual offence cases, both in enhancing its own processes, for example through their ongoing review of its Victim Information and Advice function, and in working with partners across the criminal justice sector. 

“I was pleased to see that the Inspectorate noted that Crown applications under this section of law were generally good and that it has developed its practices. However, there remains improvement work to be done, and I have instructed that this is taken forward as a matter of urgency.” 

The report is published here: 

Procurator Fiscal Fraser Gibson, who leads on High Court sexual offence prosecutions said: 

“This is a challenging area of work and COPFS has responded swiftly to developments in case law, issuing new instructions to staff and creating a training course dedicated to sexual history and character evidence. This has led to a significant shift in practice regarding how section 275 applications are managed. 

“We will continue to seek to make improvements and welcome the contribution the inspection report makes to this work.”