A Scottish High Court judge, Lord Matthews has stated that Scotland is considering the creation of a dedicated sexual offences court.
The number of sex crimes being prosecuted in the Scottish courts has increased massively over the last decade. Despite that, conviction rates remain significantly lower than other crimes. In 2017/18 the acquittal rate for rape was 55% and was 33% for sexual assault, in comparison with an overall acquittal rate for all crimes of 6%.
Whilst there will be varying reasons behind this, a judge-led sexual offences review group is considering the issue and looking to improve the way sexual offences are dealt with. The review group, chaired by Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, comprises members of the judiciary and representatives of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Police Scotland, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, justice agencies and third sector organisations including Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Victim Support Scotland.
Speaking recently, Lord Matthews said that the group were considering the option to establish a national Sexual Offences Court jurisdiction, to sit just below the High Court.
At this stage, it is unclear what sort of offences the proposed court would deal with, or how the court would operate.
This is not the first time that Scotland has introduced specialist courts. The All Scotland Personal Injury Court also has a Scotland wide jurisdiction to deal with most personal injury claims. In a criminal context, a specialist domestic abuse court was previously piloted at Glasgow Sheriff Court, the Drug Court has been in operation since 2001 and an Alcohol Court was introduced last year. Specialist courts come with benefits. Specially trained judges and prosecutors should lead to an increase in both efficiency. The introduction of a specialist court may assist in modernising the system for prosecuting sexual offences in Scotland and lead to an improved experience for complainers. The group hopes to report in early 2020.