Investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes: review
- The high number of victims who disengage during the criminal justice process, after taking the significant step to report the crime, infers that more could be done by the criminal justice system, in which COPFS is arguably the key organisation, to provide the necessary information and support to victims, many of whom have complex needs or vulnerabilities, to enable them to have the confidence to continue throughout the process.
- The high level of agreement between the specialist prosecutors and NSCU at the initial decision stage is reassuring and provides a high degree of confidence in the initial decisions made by specialist prosecutors.
- Premature reporting by Police Scotland is a contributory factor for instructing pre-petition investigation.
- Pre-petition investigation took more than ten months to conclude in 45% of the cases examined.
- Cases where there has been pre-petition investigation are not being expedited after the accused has appeared on petition. By and large, COPFS is indicting pre-petition cases in accordance with the statutory timescales that apply to High Court cases.
- The standard of communication where pre-petition investigation was undertaken, fell below what should be expected for 47% of victims.
- VIA updated victims of any significant developments in 93% of cases. There were, however, significant gaps between contacts from VIA.
- The frequency of contact provided by the COPFS Victim Strategy is not meeting the needs of victims.
- Victims commonly do not understand that VIA is part of COPFS.
- The use of legal terms when dealing with victims and witnesses creates barriers and enhances a sense of separation and detachment from the process.
- The COPFS Victim Strategy requires a more nuanced approach, tailored to victims’ needs. For victims with identified vulnerabilities, such as mental health problems or learning difficulties, a bespoke strategy taking account of their particular needs, including whether more regular contact would assist, should be discussed and agreed at the outset.
- There is an unrealistic expectation by COPFS of victim and witnesses’ understanding of the prosecution process and how the criminal justice system operates.
- The abolition of notices and applications for special measures would provide certainty for victims that they could give evidence in accordance with the standard measure of their choice.
- Asking the victim to engage pro-actively on special measures at the beginning of the investigation is premature. Many victims and witnesses do not have sufficient knowledge of court procedures and concepts such as TV link to make informed decisions. Decisions on special measures should be tailored to the individual needs of the victim following a face to face meeting.
- The criminal justice system places an onus on victims to seek updates, decide about special measures, find appropriate support, deal with the shifts and uncertainties in scheduling of trials and narrate what happened in an environment over which they have no control. For many dealing with the trauma of the offence, the process is too much and it explains why many simply disengage.
- Prosecution requests for sensitive, personal records are being tailored to the specific purpose for which records are being sought.
- Whilst cases involving child offenders/victims are being given some priority they are not being progressed to custody timescales.
- We found a significant gap in the availability of any advocacy or court based support for children. No agency or organisation provides such support on a national or systematic basis.