Tackling abusive behaviour and sexual harm

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. Pic: John Devlin.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. Pic: John Devlin.

Four new laws aimed at tackling abusive behaviour and sexual harm come into force today (Monday) including a requirement for judges to direct juries when dealing with trials relating to certain sexual offences.

It is now mandatory for judges to give special information to guide juries in certain sexual offence trials. Specifically where there was a delay in the victim reporting the alleged offence, where there is evidence of the victim not putting up physical resistance or the perpetrator not using physical force during the assault.

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.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 also introduces three other measures designed to improve the justice system’s response to these types of crime including: 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. This will ensure the fact an offence involved domestic abuse is taken account of when sentencing the offender; 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 – this will reduce the potential trauma for victims of facing more than one trial and ensure no-one can escape justice if there is doubt around exactly where an offence was committed and extending the power to protect victims from further harassment 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.

“As victims of sexual offences have increasing confidence in reporting to the police this new requirement for judges to direct juries will make a real difference in enabling juries to approach court evidence in an informed way.

“All of the measures coming in to force have one thing in common. They will improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour and help ensure perpetrators are clear that their actions will have consequences.”

Rape Crisis Scotland coordinator, Sandy Brindley, 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.”