Expert unit probing sexual crimes

A specialist unit set up to investigate and prosecute Scotland’s most serious sex crimes has been involved in 100 cases since it began work last month.

The National Sexual Crimes Unit contains some of the country’s most experienced legal experts.

The dedicated team of Crown Counsel advises procurators fiscal on how best to bring cases before the courts.

It is hoped the new unit will help increase the number of successful prosecutions for offences such as rape.

The unit, which also contains a team of specialist procurators fiscal, is being headed by Derek Ogg QC, who has led the prosecution of some of Scotland’s most serious offences.

It undertakes cases including rape, sexual abuse, images which show child sex abuse, sexually motivated murder and people trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The review by the Lord Advocate in 2006 made 50 recommendations for improving how sexual offences were handled in Scottish Courts, including the introduction of specialist training on the investigation and prosecution of rape.

Speaking as she officially launched the unit on Thursday, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini said all 50 recommendations had now been implemented, leading to a “profound change” in the way sex crimes were investigated and prosecuted.

She added: “Rape and other sexual offences are among the most distressing, disturbing crimes in our society, and such cases often present complex legal challenges for prosecutors.

“But the more we learn about sexual crime, the more we begin to understand the scale of the task. That is why it is so important that the review is seen as a catalyst for further work, including the establishment of our new National Sexual Crimes Unit.

“I am confident that the national unit will play a crucial role as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes across Scotland.”

Thoroughly investigated

Mr Ogg said the unit would not shy away from cases simply because they were complex or challenging.

“Having a dedicated team of specialist prosecutors will enable us to make early decisions about the direction of investigations and to make sure that cases are in the best possible shape to be argued in court and result in a successful prosecution”, he said.

“We will always seek to prosecute where the law enables us to do so. Our latest figures show that 32% of cases indicted for rape result in a conviction, and it is important to recognise that people initially accused of rape may ultimately be convicted for other offences.

“Above all, we want people who come forward to report sexual crime to be reassured that all of the facts will be thoroughly investigated and that there is commitment at the highest level in Scotland’s prosecution service to delivering justice in these cases.”

Women’s organisations have described Scotland’s poor record of successful rape prosecutions as a “national disgrace”.

Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland said: “We hope that as part of an overall picture, this unit will make some real difference in the real challenges we have in our conviction rate in Scotland.

“There are a number of advantages to specialism in an area like sexual crimes, it certainly seems to have worked in other countries.

“We’re hoping it’ll lead to a consistent approach and we hope the unit will take a robust approach in terms of what is said in court about complainers’ sexual history. What women are subjected to in court is something we’ve been concerned about for a long time.

“But most rape cases don’t even get as far as court so I think it is important to look at the justice system from start to finish.”

Ms Brindley said the main weaknesses in the current system lay in the police response to rape, particularly if the woman making the claim had been drinking or there had been some consensual sexual contact, and in the questioning of victims in court about their sexual history or medical records.

She added that the focus had far too often been on the victim’s behaviour.