On Tuesday this week, (w/c 30th April) John spoke in a Member’s Debate regarding Rape Crisis Centres and Prosecutions.
You can read and watch John’s speech below.
You are quite right, Presiding Officer, that this is a very important debate, and it is on a very emotional subject. It is some time since my police days, but I can say that there has been an outstanding change and improvement in attitude and response from the service in relation to the issue. I mentioned earlier this afternoon the confidence in Police Scotland about handling many issues to do not just with sexual crime but with domestic violence. The link with the prosecution service—the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service—and the more humane handling of cases are key to that.
Part of the weakness is in our courts. Like others, I was heartened to hear Lord Carloway speak this morning about the opportunities that may exist for recording testimony and cross-examination. My colleague Margaret Mitchell mentioned legislation that has been dealt with in Parliament in recent times. During the passage of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 I was privileged to hear the private testimony of individuals, and I have to say that it was harrowing. The state’s way of helping an individual should not inflict more grief on them.
Terminology is very important. The public interest is absolutely fundamental. I attended the recent briefing by the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General, who made compelling arguments. There is an obligation on us to act collectively and in the public interest. Of course, key to that is the role of the complainer. That is the correct term—the person is the complainer. The term “survivor” is appropriate, but in the legal context the term is “complainer”. The wellbeing of the complainer is key, because we want good-quality evidence, which we would not get were we to compel people. However, there is a very fine balance to be struck, as a couple of members have said.
As I understand it, victims of sexual abuse and rape are already treated uniquely by being given a say that is not necessarily given to victims of assault or housebreaking. It is important that there is already recognition of the significance of the issue.
The question of disengagement and the humane response to it was touched on in the briefing that I attended. Disengagement can happen for a number of reasons. Kezia Dugdale mentioned a report, but there is a lot of other information on the issue. All the requests are reasonable, but a crucial one that I think everyone would go along with is for more research, in order that we can understand what is involved.
If I have one disappointment, it is that although this is a well-attended members’ business debate, it would have been good if there had been a minister here who has responsibility for dishing out money, because the support mechanisms that are put in place are key. It might be that there are other pressing engagements.
Today, I met Rape Crisis Scotland. Having met Ms Brindley, and having met the Solicitor General and the Lord Advocate last week, I do not think that they are poles apart. However, I say as gently as possible that the situation is a bit of a public relations disaster. We all want to increase the number of successful sexual crime prosecutions. The key to that is the quality of the evidence; there are opportunities that will come with Lord Carloway’s proposals.
I am sure that the Lord Advocate will reflect on the points that have been made. I ask that there be further engagement with Rape Crisis Scotland, because I imagine that members are as one on where we should be going.