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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-21510: Kezia Dugdale (Lothian)

Scottish Labour

Date lodged: 6 February 2019

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in fast-tracking rape cases through the court process.

Answered by: James Wolffe QC 28 February 2019

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is committed to improving the way that sexual offences are investigated and prosecuted, and to reduce the time which it takes for all cases involving serious sexual offences, including rape, to progress through the criminal justice system.

The Scottish Government has allocated additional funding to COPFS, among other things, to facilitate improvement in the overall journey times of High Court sexual offence cases. COPFS has formulated a programme of work to that end. The implementation of that programme of work is dependent on the recruitment and training of additional staff.

The additional funding will allow COPFS to recruit 25 additional staff to work on High Court Sexual Offences cases. 15.5 of those posts have been filled, 3 posts have new post-holders identified to take up post in the next few weeks and the remaining 6.5 posts are subject to ongoing recruitment processes. The new staff who have already taken up their posts are now undertaking a period of training and induction within the national High Court Sexual Offences team.

Once the new staff are in place, new processes will be implemented with a view to earlier indictment of new cases whilst also managing the existing caseload. It is anticipated that it will take about 18 months from receipt of the additional resource to a new model of performance, which fully meets the ambitions of the COPFS programme of work, though it is expected that incremental improvements will become apparent during this time.

One of the factors identified by the Inspectorate of Prosecution as a significant contributor to the delay in overall journey times of High Court sexual offence cases was the use of pre-petition investigation. In October 2016 there were approximately 700 cases which were subject to pre-petition investigation. A significant programme of work has been undertaken to address this, and there are now fewer than 100 cases under pre-petition investigation.

With effect from June 2019, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service will introduce two additional trial courts for High Court business, thus providing additional capacity for the throughput of cases.