Victims of rape facing ‘outmoded’ practices in court, senior judge warns

Rape victims are facing “outmoded” practices in court, Scotland’s most senior judge has said.

Lord Carloway, the Lord President and Lord Justice General, is the head of the judiciary for both civil and criminal matters.

He initiated a series of changes in 2011 and 2015 intended to modernise the courts, some of which have materialised.

But in an interview with BBC Scotland, he warned the judiciary is facing a raft of new problems since the pandemic doubled waiting times at the High Court, and there is a shortage of defence solicitors.

He said the waiting time for rape cases has doubled from 22 weeks prior to the pandemic to 44 weeks today.

Lord Carloway (pictured) told the broadcaster: “We have made several inroads into the problems we perceived five years ago.

“We introduced some solutions but there is much work still to be done. Both in relation to children and rape complainers.

“There are significant problems here which we are addressing but we’ve not succeeded in solving.

“Some are to do with resources, some with technicalities and some to do with the use of practices we consider to be outmoded and are taking some time to change.”

He said he hopes the delays will be reduced but does not see “any realistic prospect of it dropping to the pre-Covid level” due to both finance and staffing.

Lord Carloway said it is time to look again at why children and rape victims are still being forced to go to court to give evidence, and whether it is possible to stop cross-examination of children, the BBC reported.

He said the questioning of victims should be “trauma informed” – amid controversy over the way defence advocates deal with women in rape cases.

Vulnerable victims and witnesses are allowed to give pre-recorded video evidence and be cross-examined in advance of the trial “by commission” in the presence of the judge, prosecutor and defence – but Lord Carloway said technology designed to assist with pre-recorded evidence is not used widely enough.

He told the BBC: “My understanding is that even at sheriff and jury level, but certainly at sheriff summary level, the commissions are not being used extensively.

“Again, it’s a resource issue as I understand it.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: “COPFS is committed to working with justice partners on the continuous development of measures, such as the use of pre-recorded evidence to improve the experience of children and vulnerable complainers.

“Prosecutors will seek to use pre-recorded evidence, when appropriate, to ease the experience of those giving evidence.

“Over time, building on and informed by good practice and supported by resources across the criminal justice sector and linked to the passing of associated legislation, the use of evidence by commissioner is likely to increase further.

“COPFS will continue to engage with justice partners on our ongoing work to review experiences, which ensures that such measures for children and vulnerable witnesses are utilised to reduce stress and trauma.”

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