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Despite progress, experts say systemic change is needed to ensure domestic abuse survivors do not feel “let down” by the courts

SCOTLAND’S COURTS system must be reformed to better support domestic abuse and rape survivors who can find the process “as traumatic as the abuse”, according to campaign and advocacy organisations.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Scottish Women’s Aid, ASSIST, Zero Tolerance, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Rape Crisis Scotland, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission said that despite progress in recent years, many victims of domestic abuse and rape continue to feel ill-served by the system.

“Problems within the criminal justice system can lead to complainers feeling powerless throughout the process and ultimately let down by the justice system. Many women tell us that the criminal justice process can cause just as much damage as the crime itself,” Sarah Crawford, solicitor for the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre said.

This coincides with the publication of a series of case studies by CommonSpace based on interviews with four women who have been through the process as complainers in domestic abuse and rape cases.

A number of specific actions to improve the system for victims were identified by the organisations and the women themselves, including:

  • Training for everyone who hears or deals with domestic abuse and rape/sexual assault cases to ensure consistency, in line with the new Domestic Abuse Act: including sheriffs, police, court reporters and other court staff, criminal justice social work and those writing reports informing child contact decisions.
  • Victims of domestic abuse and rape/sexual assault should have the opportunity to have their evidence pre-recorded – it should be confirmed that current considerations around child evidence and evidence in rape cases will be extended to domestic abuse in a specified timescale.
  • Court advocacy services should be extended across Scotland for domestic abuse cases.
  • Complainers should be given standing in criminal proceedings by enabling them to be legally represented, which would assist the Crown Office and Prosecution Service (COPFS), support requests for non-harassment orders, and provide the complainer a point of contact. To achieve this, and adequate representation for women in civil proceedings, adequate legal aid must be available.
  • Stronger communication between prosecutors and complainers so that victims don’t feel that they are peripheral to the case.
  • Review the requirement for corroboration (two different and independent sources of evidence) in certain categories of cases, as this is often impossible to achieve in rape and domestic abuse cases.


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