RESEARCHERS have called for an overhaul of rape cases are handled in court.

Experts from the Glasgow University’s Centre for Crime and Justice Research said survivors were “overwhelmed by attempts by the defence to challenge their credibility”.

A study of 17 different rape cases heard that survivors felt they they were often asked questions “designed to depict them as untruthful or dishonest”.

One woman told how she was portrayed in court by the defence as a “terrible mother” and “scorned woman” who had made allegations of rape against her partner in revenge for him cheating.

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A male rape survivor said he was repeatedly made out to have been drunk at the time of the attack despite evidence that he was completely sober.

Prosecutors also asked one survivor what she had been wearing, and in another case pulled up the woman’s Facebook history to point to instances where she had ‘liked’ something on her rapist’s page and claimed she was “obsessed with him”.

Questioning around a victim’s sexual history or character is restricted in sexual offence trials and the study said it was not possible from interviews with survivors to determine whether the questioning in court had “strayed beyond what was, or should have been permitted”.

However, the researchers recommend that “consideration should be given to a review of the adversarial nature and manner of defence questioning”.

The study added that a “review of the use of sexual history and character evidence at trial” should be carried out.

It also recommends that Scotland’s courts should provide independent legal representation to rape survivors so that they can feel “more adequately represented”.

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This has previously been backed by leading prosecutor Simon Di Rollo QC and Peter Duff, a criminology professor at Aberdeen University. They said the current system, where the Crown acts in the public interest, is not suited to rape trials.

Prof Duff said: “It’s not the job of the prosecution to look after the victim. If they want to use sexual history evidence the prosecution rarely opposes this.”

The number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police in Scotland has increased from 997 in 2010/11 to 2,255 in 2017/18. However, only only 39% of rape cases that go to trial result in a conviction and even fewer go to trial at all.

Of the 17 cases in the study, only three resulted in guilty verdicts, with others abandoned, ending in not proven verdicts, or achieving conviction on non-sexual charges.

Dr Oona Brooks-Hay, a senior lecturer in criminology at the CCJR, said: “While our research reveals that some relatively minor practical changes could go a long way to improving experiences, more radical change such as the introduction of independent legal representation in serious sexual offence cases, must be given serious consideration.

Sexual offences have profound and distinctive impacts, and therefore merit distinctive responses.”

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Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said it was clear from the report that "radical improvements" were needed to the justice system.

She said: “One recommendation in particular stands out; that rape complainers should have access to their own legal representation.

"In our view this could make a huge difference to people’s experience of the justice process. 

"Survivors often describe feeling isolated and under attack in court, independent legal representation could address the imbalance which currently exists where rape complainers are at the fringes of their own case, ensuring that they have a voice."

Gordon Jackson, QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “Going through the court process will never be a pleasant experience, and often it can be very upsetting.

Defence counsel must be able to test the evidence against their client, and to test it robustly.

"That can still be done with courtesy and sensitivity, and the Faculty goes to some lengths to train its members in best practice."

He added that a review group, headed by Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, is currently looking at the way sexual offence cases are dealt with in Scotland's courts.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said it is “committed to improving the experience of victims within the criminal justice system and will consider the terms of this report”.