Sexual Offences Legislation Coming Into Force

24 April 2017, 06:33

domestic violence

New laws are coming into force aimed at improving the way sexual offences are dealt with in court.

From Monday, judges are now required to give special information to juries in certain sexual offence trials, including where there is a delay in the victim reporting the crime, where there is no evidence of physical resistance by the victim and where the perpetrator has not used physical force.

The move is designed to challenge any pre-conceived notions jurors may have about how a person should react when they are the victim of a sexual offence and has been welcomed by charities such as Rape Crisis Scotland.

Sandy Brindley, co-ordinator for the organisation, said: "Survivors often tell us that during a rape they froze and were unable to fight back or scream.

"This is a completely natural and common reaction, but not always one that members of the public will necessarily be aware of.

"We welcome the introduction of jury directions in rape cases as a significant step forward.

"Providing jury members with factual information on different reactions to rape should help to ensure that verdicts in sexual offence cases are based on the evidence presented rather than being influenced by assumptions about how rape victims should react.''

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 also sees the introduction of a new statutory aggravation which means courts will be required to take into account whether or not an offence involved abuse of a partner or ex-partner.

The Act further introduces an extension of the law concerning certain sexual offences committed against children, to allow for prosecution in Scottish courts of offences committed elsewhere in the UK.

The change is aimed at reducing the potential trauma for victims who might otherwise face more than one trial.

Powers to protect victims from further harassment are also being extended by allowing a criminal non-harassment order to be imposed in a wider range of circumstances.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "Abusive behaviour and sexual harm will not be tolerated in Scotland.

"Tackling these crimes requires a bold response and speedy and effective enforcement, which is why we have introduced new laws to improve the way our justice system responds.

"By continuing to modernise the law we can support victims in accessing justice and ensure perpetrators are properly held to account for their actions.''