Sex crime victims will give their police statements on video in a historic and radical overhaul of Scotland’s justice system.

The country’s most senior officers have approved a pilot project under which rape survivors can tell their story straight to camera - and potentially avoid appearing in court.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone and his senior leadership board are understood to believe the scheme - to be pioneered in Edinburgh and Inverness - will generate better evidence than age-old longhand note-taking by detectives.

The pilot, proposed by Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, is also part of a wider Scottish drive to make the justice system, including police investigation, less harrowing for those who have suffered a sex crime.

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Officials from Scottish Government, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Rape Crisis Scotland are all currently thrashing out the final shape of the pilot project. A research project funded by the government is due to report back later this summer.

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said she hoped videoing the initial statements of complaining witnesses would streamline and improve justice, perhaps meaning victims did not have to testify in court.

She said: “At the moment the justice process can be incredibly traumatic for people reporting rape or sexual assault.

“Increasingly, there has been an awareness about the benefits of pre-recorded evidence for complaining witnesses.

“Fundamentally, where we should move towards is so rape victims do not have to get evidence in court at all. It is not the way to get best evidence. It is extremely intimidating. 

“How do you get the best evidence, particularly immediately after they have been sexually assaulted. A number of other jurisdictions, including England, have tried video recording.

“This is a helpful way to capture the evidence. That could then be used as their testimony in court.”

Ms Brindley’s remarks echo those of Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway,  the Lord President and Lord Justice General. He previously led a review of how evidence was gathered. Last year he told BBC Scotland that courts existed to find the truth and that the current system was “particularly ineffective”.

Some defence advocates are understood to be cautious about reforms - because they believe there will be times complaining witnesses will have to have their stories tested under cross-examination.

Lord Carloway, however, had said he was concerned that court appearances in cases that took place perhaps two or three years after an alleged crime could turn in to a “memory test”.

Ms Brindley expanded on that theme. She said: “The trial could be two years after a witness has reported. And they have to go in to every detail they went in to in their police statement. 

“Often that becomes an examination of what is different in the court testimony from what they said in their police statement. 

“That is not justice, that is not getting to the truth. 

“Of course people might remember things slightly different after two years, particularly the detail around the rape than the rape itself.”

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Child crime victims already give pre-recorded witness statements or  appear by video link in Scottish courts. Campaigners have been gradually changing the way rape complainers are treated during cross-examination, not least after one teenage victim, Lindsay Armstrong, took her own life in 2002 two weeks after giving evidence in the trial of her 15-year-old attacker. 

A  defence agent had shown her underwear in court. She was just 17 when she died.

Videoing can make some witnesses nervous. 

Ms Brindley said the reduced size of video cameras mean the experience of being recorded would not be as intimidating for vulnerable witnesses as it once would have been

She said: “People would have to consent to be video-recorded. But technology is now really unobtrusive. 

“The last thing anybody would want is a big video camera on a stand in somebody’s face when they are recounting difficult and intimate evidence. 

“We have had survivors say to us ‘I’m really surprised it wasn’t recorded’. 

“I think there is an expectation that it will be. People are so used to be recorded that they are surprised by the laborious process of having their evidence hand-written by a police officer. 

“Somebody could be giving a statement for six hours and then have it read back to them.”

Insiders stress it is early to talk of pre-recorded evidence being used in non-sex cases, especially as parts of the legal establishment have to be won over to the rape pilot.

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Ms Brindley said: “There has already been more and more of a move to pre-recorded evidence, bit this has been focused on children. We think there could be huge benefits of taking this across on cases involving adult complainers. 

“There are so many potential  benefits to this approach, I think it could be applied to other crimes such as domestic abuse.”

ACC MacDonald secured approval for a pilot project at Police Scotland’s senior leadership board in May. 

In a statement she said: “We want to consider new ways of taking evidence and are exploring a pilot with partners, which include the Crown Office, Scottish Government and Rape Crisis Scotland, of recording a complainer’s initial statement to the police, to be used as evidence later in a trial. 

“A working group chaired by Scottish Government has been established to support this work.” 

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government made an almost identical statement but added: “We have also funded research to help build the evidence base on people’s experiences of the justice system to support particularly vulnerable people to give their best evidence. This will assist in the development of the pilot.”