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Fears that flagship rape laws fail women

The rape conviction rate in Scotland has fallen to a 25-year low, with just 3% of cases reported to the police last year proven in court, according to new figures seen by The Herald.

Despite successive promises from ministers and the Crown Office to improve the rate, the figures represent an embarrassment for Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, who has made it her personal mission to drive flagship changes to the way rape is prosecuted.

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The exact cause of the decline in convictions is not known, but critics say repeated attempts by the legal authorities to protect victims have actually made things worse.

Of the 821 recorded rapes in 2008/09, there were just 25 rape cases proven -- the lowest number since 1984. The number of victims reporting rapes also fell last year, raising concerns that fewer women are coming forward because of a lack of confidence in the system.

Sandy Brindley, head of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “No matter how you look at the figures, just 25 cases with charges proven is very, very low. It is worrying for us given the courage it takes to report a crime. We cannot possibly be saying that 97% of women reporting rape do not have a case.

“A real deterrent to reporting rape is the fear of sexual history and personal details from your past being brought up in court. We cannot lose sight of the fact that so many women don’t report rape in the first place.”

The rape conviction rate in Scotland is one of the lowest in the Western world despite the appointment of special prosecutors, reviews by the Crown Office and new legislation introduced in 2003 that attempted to curtail the introduction of irrelevant sexual history or character evidence.

An evaluation commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in 2007 found that, far from tightening the use of sexual history and character evidence, the 2003 legislation had made things worse.

There is also concern that the long-awaited Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act, which was passed in June 2009, will not be implemented until the autumn of this year and may not improve the conviction rate.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The new Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act reforms the law on sexual offences, replacing a complex mix of common law and statute with a clear legal framework that reflects the values of modern society.”

A Crown Office and Procurators-Fiscal spokesman said: “It should be noted that in cases where the accused is prosecuted for a course of conduct involving multiple rapes, this will be labelled as a single charge. In a case where rape is not the main charge, this will not be reflected in the figures. For example, in the case of Marek Harcar, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Moira Jones, this would not be recorded as a rape conviction.

“These statistics do not reflect the most recent developments in the ongoing commitment to improve the prosecution of sexual offences. In 2006, the Lord Advocate launched a Review of Sexual Offences which resulted in 50 recommendations to improve the prosecution of rape and other sexual crimes. All the recommendations were implemented by the summer of 2009.”

Figures represent an embarrassment for Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate

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