Labour MSP challenges ministers to include legal representation for rape victims in law

A Labour MSP is calling on the Scottish Government to change the law on support for rape victims after Summer recess.

Katy Clark MSP is calling for legal representation to be made available for rape victims and said she will ‘change the law herself if fellow MSPs fail to act’ after Summer recess is over on September 4. (Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)
Katy Clark MSP is calling for legal representation to be made available for rape victims and said she will ‘change the law herself if fellow MSPs fail to act’ after Summer recess is over on September 4. (Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

Katy Clark is calling for non means-tested legal support to be made available from the “very start” of the process for victims of rape, attempted rape and other serious sexual offences.

The Labour MSP for West Scotland originally made the call in March but is now calling for change after summer recess is over on September 4.

Lady Dorrian, the lord justice clerk, wrote a report last year on improving the management of sexual offences after being prompted by the increase of cases in Scotland.

The report came following discussions with the Lord Advocate and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

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When considering independent legal representation, the report found many complainers experienced “lack of information and engagement with COPFS (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) and an inability to convey their response”.

A woman, remaining anonymous for legal reasons, told Scotland on Sunday she was “lucky” she was able to get legal advice through a family friend.

The woman said: "It was really reassuring to have that but I know a lot of women won’t have that support.”

Ms Clark said victims of rape and sexual assault “routinely” experience additional trauma due to “poor treatment” by the current legal system.

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The Labour MSP added: “We need to rethink how serious sexual offence cases are dealt with and the ongoing legal support and representation for victims of rape.

"In the new parliamentary session, I will press ministers to close this unacceptable gap in our criminal justice system.

"The Scottish Government has no excuse for not acting to improve the poor treatment of women and girls in rape and sexual assault cases.

"There must be no prevarication or delay.

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"A failure to deliver on this (legal support) would be a betrayal of victims.”

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on improving the victims’ experiences of the justice system, following the work of the Victims Taskforce as well as Lady Dorrian’s report.

The government has said it has taken steps to ensure the rights of complainers are protected, including providing non-means tested legal aid for complainers whose sensitive records may be disclosed in criminal proceedings.

The government is also consulting on proposed reforms to improve the experiences and strengthen the rights of victims of crime, with a particular focus on sexual offences.

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The consultation includes proposals to provide independent legal representation for victims of sexual crime.

The deadline for responses has been extended until August 19 and the government is encouraging all those with an interest to share their views on this issue.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government recognises that the justice system can be distressing and re-traumatising for those who come into contact with it and we are committed to improving victims’ experiences wherever possible. Systemic changes to improve that experience, building on Lady Dorrian’s report on the Management of Sexual Offences, are now under consideration.”

A spokesperson for the COPFS: “The Crown is committed to contributing to system-wide improvement of criminal justice in Scotland.

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“Decisions over reform on matters that would require legislation, such as independent legal representation, are for the Scottish Government.”