This week the First Minister and I met victims, witnesses, their families and supporters to discuss our Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill – one of the most bold and ambitious pieces of legislation to be considered by the Scottish Parliament since devolution.

I was hugely moved by their stories of courage and determination to seek justice and to be adequately supported while doing so. This Bill is a testament to their years of campaigning as well as extensive engagement, consultation and evidence gathering.

The Bill will help put victims at the heart of the justice system. It proposes establishing an independent Commissioner to ensure victims and witnesses are listened to and that justice agencies do not add to the trauma they have already endured.

To ensure that victims are treated with greater compassion and dignity, the Bill will create a specialist sexual offences court and give victims of such crimes an automatic right to lifelong anonymity, and in some cases, free legal representation.

By abolishing the not proven verdict – a move which all Holyrood political parties committed to in their manifestos for the 2021 Scottish parliament elections – and reducing the number of jurors, while increasing the majority required for conviction, this Bill will modernise and ensure greater confidence in the justice system.

This Bill also proposes action to investigate in a practical way the large disparity in conviction rates in rape compared with other crimes. In 2020-21, 51% of individuals prosecuted for rape and attempted rape were convicted, compared to a conviction rate of 91% for other offences.

To do that, piloting single judge rape trials was recommended by a cross-sector Review Group led by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, and we have worked closely with stakeholders including the legal sector on the proposals.

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There is overwhelming evidence that jurors are subject to preconceptions about rape. This includes myths such as victims would seek to escape or resist a rapist, that they would immediately report an offence once it happened and that previous sexual contact between a complainer and an accused means they must have consented.

The research shows that these preconceptions, which do not apply to other crimes, can be carried into the jury’s deliberations, and can impact the verdicts they reach in these cases.

A time limited pilot for these cases will gather objective evidence to inform debate. This idea is not a wholly new departure  - more than 80% of all criminal trials in Scotland are already decided by a single judge without a jury. Using judges to make decisions in the proposed pilot means we can also require them to produce written reasons for their verdicts, improving transparency and assisting victims as well as the accused.

I pay tribute to the incredible efforts of victims, survivors, witnesses, and their families who have campaigned for years for many of the reforms proposed within the Bill.

Compassionate and informed debate in Parliament will be critical as we embark on this journey, and the continued involvement of all those campaigners will absolutely help us to secure its passage through the Parliament.

What is being set out is paradigm shifting. But so much of Scotland’s justice system – designed over centuries – is now out-of-date and retraumatising for too many victims. The status-quo is no longer an option.