Exclusive: Scotland considers creation of sexual offences court

Lord Matthews

Scotland is considering the creation of a dedicated sexual offences court, a judge has said.

Lord Matthews said in a speech at the Third International Advocacy Conference in Nottingham that a judge-led sexual offences review group is considering the measure.

He said that “one option to be explored might be to establish a national Sexual Offences Court jurisdiction, to sit just below the High Court”.

Scotland has faced a deluge of sex crime cases in recent years.

A review by the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland undertaken in 2017 showed that sexual crimes constituted 75 per cent of the overall workload of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the High Court.

In 2017/18, rape and attempted rape accounted for 18 per cent of sexual crimes recorded by the police. Reports of such crimes to police have increased by 99 per cent since 2010-11. This includes a 20 per cent increase from 1,878 reports in 2016-17 to 2,255 in 2017/18.

The acquittal rate for rape in 2017/18 was 55 per cent and 33 per cent for sexual assault – compared to the overall acquittal rate in Scotland for all crimes of six per cent.

The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape meanwhile increased in 2017/18 by four percentage points to 43 per cent, though this remains below the peak of 56 per cent in 2012/13. Convictions for sexual assault fell 16 percentage points from 79 per cent in 2008/09 to 63 per cent in 2017/18.

The establishment of such a court is being considered by a review group chaired by Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk. It was established by the Lord President, Lord Carloway, to develop proposals for an improved system to deal with all sexual offence cases following discussions with the Lord Advocate and the Justice Secretary.

The group comprises members of the judiciary and representatives of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Police Scotland, COPFS, justice agencies and third sector organisations including Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Victim Support Scotland.

While it is not yet clear what shape a sexual offences court would take, Scotland has already established a number of ‘problem solving’ courts. The Alcohol Court was launched in Glasgow last year while the Drug Court has been in operation since 2001. Earlier this year it was announced that the Alcohol Court would begin dealing with domestic abuse cases too while Aberdeen Sheriff Court has adopted a specialist approach to dealing with repeat offenders.

A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service told Scottish Legal News: “The sexual offences review is ongoing and the group is considering a number of options of which the establishment of a sexual offences court could be one possible option. The group expects to report on its findings early next year.”

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