Scotland

Extra funding to prosecute sexual offences in Scotland

Image copyright PA
Image caption There has been an increase in the number of reports of sexual offences in recent years

The Scottish government is giving the prosecution service an extra £1.1m to combat court delays following a spike in the number of sex crimes reported.

The Crown Office has been dealing with a growing sexual offences caseload, despite the overall crime rate falling.

The extra funds will go to improve communication with complainers and prevent delays in going to court.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the Crown was committed to "effective and rigorous prosecution of sex offences".

The number of reports of sexual crimes has been on the up since 2010, with 1,878 reports of rape or attempted rape in Scotland in 2016-17 - up 4% on the previous year.

This has been driven both by an increase in the number of people coming forward to report historical offences, and new technology causing a sharp rise in the number of "cyber enabled" crimes.

MSPs on Holyrood's justice committee reported earlier in 2018 that sex crimes now constitute "approximately 75%" of the Crown Office's workload in the High Court, issuing a warning about the mounting number and complexity of these cases.

Crown Agent David Harvie wrote to the committee underlining that "the nature of our work has changed very significantly", saying there had been "an increase of around 50% in serious sexual offences reported" to prosecutors.

Image copyright Rape Crisis Scotland
Image caption "Poppy" sought help from Rape Crisis Scotland

Poppy - not her real name - was the victim of a sexual assault 17 months ago. She told BBC Scotland the lack of communication from the authorities has made her situation worse.

She believes only the intervention of the Rape Crisis Scotland organisation has helped her find out what is happening with her case.

"I reported it four days after the assault.

"I was assigned a victim support officer from the procurator fiscal service.

"I have had no contact with them since October.

"They have not been forthcoming with any information about what's happening with the case.

"(In October) I was basically told that they weren't doing anything and that they had sent an email off.

"That service is supposed to tell me every month if there's any update and what information there is.

"I didn't have any contact with them at all since then and it's only through Rape Crisis that we've managed to get to where we are now."

The extra funding allocated by the Scottish government will go towards dealing with this additional caseload, with the aim of reducing the amount of time cases take to come to court and to improve information provided to complainers.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said sexual crimes were still under-reported, and said the funds would hopefully give victims more confidence to report crimes.

He said: "Many victims of sexual offences are understandably anxious about the criminal justice process and there is a risk that without appropriate support and reassurance the prosecution process can compound their trauma.

"That is why we are providing this extra funding to help ensure cases reach court as quickly as possible and to improve communication with victims."

Mr Wolffe added: "The additional funding which the justice secretary has announced responds to the current and projected growth in reports of sexual crime, and the changing profile and complexity of these cases."

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