HUMZA Yousaf's new government has published radical proposals to overhaul key aspects of the Scottish justice system.

Under the long-promised legislation, a specialist sexual offences court would be established and a pilot set up of a single judge without a jury to preside over trials for cases of rape and attempted rape.

Further proposed changes would see the scrapping of the not proven verdict, a reduction in the number of jurors from 15 to 12 and the introduction of lifelong anonymity for victims of a sexual offence.

But some of the reforms, notably the plan to run a pilot on trials without juries in rape and attempted rape cases, are already being resisted by the legal profession who see them as highly controversial and unnecessary.

The issue has the potential to give the embattled Mr Yousaf a new political headache.

Ministers' rationale is to put the needs of victims at the centre of the justice system and address low conviction rates for rapes and serious sexual offences.

Survivors of sexual offences and organisations which support them have for many years complained that their needs have been secondary to those of the accused.

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Victims of these offences have described their experience of going through the justice process as traumatic.

They point to numerous current problems – for example, in the first instance, many people who have been sexually assaulted are reluctant to come forward to the police sometimes for fear they won't be believed or may be wrongly judged for their own behaviour.

Then there is a second battle that if they do report the crime there is the difficulty in getting the matter to court. This may be because of problems for the police gathering sufficient evidence and the prosecution building a watertight case against the suspect.

And then finally if the case does get to court, there is a low conviction rate for rapes and sexual offences.

Some 46 per cent of rape trials result in a conviction compared to an overall conviction rate in trials of about 88 per cent. Rape and attempted rape trials are also more likely to end in a not proven verdict than trials for other offences.

I remember, as a former crime reporter, covering a rape and attempted murder case at the High Court back in the late 1990s where the accused drove a car at his victim after allegedly raping her.

The police had arrested the suspect, who had escaped their attention for some years, after his DNA turned up on their database for an unrelated matter and there was much optimism among detectives I knew that justice would finally be done for the poor woman left with horrendous injuries.

But the jury decided that sex between the two was consensual and, seeming to ignore the incident with the car, returned a verdict of not proven.

Some of the reforms unveiled by the Scottish Government on Wednesday are based on a 2021 report by Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, Scotland's second most senior judge, on what could be done to improve the experience of victims of sexual crimes in the justice system.

She stopped short of recommending that cases should be heard by a single judge rather than a jury, though she did suggest that a pilot could be conducted of single judges presiding over rape trials to establish their effectiveness and how they are perceived by complainers, accused and lawyers.

It is not yet clear how the pilot for juryless trials for rapes and attempted rapes will operate and whether it would just be one high court that would be involved or all of the country's high courts.

But lawyers are on the warpath and want to...

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