WE have known for years that the prosecution of rape in Scotland is not what it should be. There have been some improvements, notably the creation of the National Sexual Crimes Unit, but the conviction rate remains low and the experience of some victims is troubling. Many are left in the dark for months, with court appearances postponed at the last minute; many are also left traumatised by their experiences once they get into court. One victim told the Inspectorate of Prosecutions recently that the process of seeking justice was worse than being raped.

Sadly, the experiences of the woman who appeared in the court of Judge Norman Ritchie recently simply underlines how far we have still to go. Philip Donegan from Glasgow was convicted of two counts of rape and jailed for eight years, but it is the comments of Judge Ritchie during the trial that have drawn serious criticism. Appeal judges criticised him over the way he quizzed the complainer, as well as for comments claiming the woman’s previous statements “blew her evidence out of the water”. The judge was also attacked for failing to intervene when defence counsel carried out “lengthy, unjustified and sometimes insulting cross-examination”.

Rape Crisis Scotland has quite rightly described the conduct of the case as a prime example of why women are scared to report rape and said change in the way complainers are handled is urgently needed. One area that certainly needs to change is the way in which prosecutors and the police communicate with women. It cannot be right, for instance, that in one case, it took the Crown 15 months to contact the complainer after the police submitted their report.

However, more support, and more resources (including more specialist officers) are also urgently needed for complainers to feel less traumatised by the process of justice. A prosecution usually depends on whether a woman is willing to give evidence – therefore a system that leaves them feeling humiliated or let-down is likely to lead to fewer convictions. No one denies that evidence must be robustly tested in court, but the aim now must be to create a process of justice that works quickly, openly and compassionately for everyone involved.