SCOTLAND'S most senior law officer has told MSPs she will take a fresh look at any "detailed" and evidence-based proposals for drug consumption rooms.

Dorothy Bain QC, who was appointed Lord Advocate earlier this year, said "the question of what is in the public interest" could be looked at again in relation to the controversial facilities.

She made the comments while giving evidence to Holyrood's Criminal Justice Committee. 

Elsewhere, she called for radical measures to tackle the "extraordinary number" of sexual violence cases caught up in court backlogs.

Drug consumption rooms allow users to take substances such as heroin under medical supervision and with access to clean equipment and support services.

Supporters argue they could help tackle Scotland's appalling drug-related death rate.

There were 1,339 drug deaths in Scotland last year, a new record and by far the highest rate recorded by any country in Europe.

Ms Bain said the previous Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, was asked about drug consumption rooms by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership in 2017.

It wanted to confirm that the health board, council, staff and partner organisations would not face prosecution if such a facility was set up.

Mr Wolffe reached the conclusion that "the public interest objective in a consumption facility was a health rather than a justice one", Ms Bain said.

She told MSPs: "However, in relation to what was asked of him in terms of prosecution, he concluded it wasn't possible to grant the request.

"The potential offences which may be committed in any particular consumption facility will depend on the individual scheme envisaged, the policies and processes within the individual scheme, and the actual behaviours of both the operators and the users.

"And so the Lord Advocate couldn't, actually, as a matter of law, whether through policy or otherwise, decriminalise conduct which was by law criminal, nor could immunity from prosecution be granted in advance.

"Now, the question of prosecution in the public interest is something different. 

"And if indeed there is a proposal that's made for a drug consumption facility that is precise, detailed, specific and underpinned by evidence, and supported by those that would be responsible for policing such a facility, and Police Scotland, and there's careful consideration in and around how these consumption rooms would impact on communities, then – if that sort of planned use of drug consumption rooms is brought to the Lord Advocate as a very well set out proposal – then in terms of the undoubted crisis that we face in relation to the number of drug deaths in Scotland, if it is in the public interest that there should be no prosecutions for those using drug consumption facilities, with all these safeguards that would require to be in place, then that would require a fresh consideration by me as Lord Advocate.

"So I think it's important to see the distinction between what James Wolffe was asked and what could be asked. These are different things.

"So the question of what is in the public interest would be something that could be looked at again.

"But it would have to be looked at again in very careful circumstances, where a very detailed set of proposals are brought and we're confident that they are based on sound evidence."

Elsewhere, Ms Bain said she is deeply troubled by the backlog of cases awaiting trial due to the pandemic.

She said the delays "predominantly and disproportionately" affect women and children.

The Lord Advocate said she would support a pilot of "judge-led" trials without a jury for serious sex crimes, as proposed in a recent review led by Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian.