THE figures tell their own grim story. More than 70 per cent of cases at the High Court relate to serious sexual offending. Just four in ten rape and attempted rape cases result in conviction, compared with an overall conviction rate of cases at the High Court of nearly nine in ten.

A welcome judgement earlier this week by the Court of Appeal could change all that. The ruling means that in cases of rape, evidence of a complainer’s distress spoken to by another witness may now corroborate the allegation of rape.

The Court of Appeal went further, saying that that if a complainer is seen in a state of distress by an independent witness, and tells the witness that they were raped, then that statement may also provide corroboration of the allegation that they were raped. “That was not previously possible”, as the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) puts it.

Appeal court changes rules around corroboration in rape cases

The judgement has been widely welcomed, and with good reason. Dorothy Bain KC, the Lord Advocate, who had referred the matter to the Court of Appeal, predicted that the ruling could transform the way in which all offences, and sexual offences in particular, are prosecuted. It will, she said, give more victims better access to justice.

To the Rape Crisis Scotland organisation, the ruling was “significant”, the change “seismic”. As it observed, one reason that most rape cases never make it to court is because of the Scottish legal requirement for collaboration; the judgement now means there is no requirement to prove the separate elements of a crime by corroborated evidence.

The Herald reported this week that in the wake of the written judgement issued by Lord Carloway, hundreds of unprosecuted sexual-offence cases in Scotland could now end up in the courts.

Scottish Government could find 'middle ground' on juryless rape trials

A key phrase in the judgement underscores the long-overdue nature of the change. Across the Commonwealth, it said, distress can provide corroboration of a sexual assault, including rape, without any need to corroborate penetration separately. “Scots law is out of step with the rest of the Commonwealth”, it added, pointedly.

Ms Bain has made it a priority to improve the prosecution of sexual offences, arguing that women and girls deserve better. The recent example of Sean Hogg might be a case in point. Hogg had been convicted of multiple rapes of a 13-year-old girl but he avoided a custodial sentence under new guidelines to reduce the number of under-25s going to prison. His conviction has been overturned on appeal after prosecutors admitted that “mistakes were made” during his trial.

Proposed improvements stemming from a review by Lady Dorrian include the creation of specialist courts for sexual offences, and a deeply controversial move to prosecute sexual crimes without a jury.

In a newspaper article last weekend, Ms Bain asserted that the justice system cannot stand still, despite the immense challenges that stand in the way. The changes had to go hand in hand with a cultural transformation to banish the acceptance of the fact that men are violent towards women.

Sean Hogg: Woman accuser 'devastated' as rape conviction quashed

Remedying the lingering sense of injustice felt by many women and girls who have been raped or sexually assaulted, and undercutting the vaulting sense of male sexual entitlement, will necessarily take a long time. But the Court of Appeal’s judgement, and Ms Bain’s determination to improve victims’ experience of justice, are an urgent step in the right direction.



All things considered, it had been a relatively good spell of late for the First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

Time magazine put him on its list of 100 emerging leaders. Motivated in part by the awful plight of his in-laws in Gaza, he was commendably outspoken on the subject of Israel and Gaza and the need to help refugees. And, though his proposed independence strategy remains open to interpretation, he generally performed well at the annual SNP conference. But his decision to freeze the council tax has overshadowed much of that.

It smacks of cynical electioneering, a response to the defeat at Rutherglen and Hamilton West and a means of appealing to voters in the run-up to the next general election. The decision wasn't even signed off by the Scottish Government Cabinet. Not only has it infuriated COSLA and others, but it also flies in the face of the Verity House Agreement with embattled local councils struggling to maintain public services.

The decision to freeze council taxes will help many families mired in a cost-of-living crisis. Though the freeze will apply to all homes, a backtracking on a restructuring of council tax, which would have meant hefty increases for Band E to Band H homes on top of across-the-board increases being planned by councils from April, and which would have raised an extra £176m for councils, will benefit people in bigger homes in more affluent areas.

The decision will do nothing to advance the SNP's long-running commitment to reform council tax to make it fairer. COSLA president Shona Morrison, an SNP councillor in Moray, is right to argue that previous council tax freezes have been regressive, have had no impact on the poorest in society, and erode the council tax base, compounding councils’ ongoing underfunding issues.