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Sexual offence reforms come into effect today

24 April 2017

Four new laws aimed at tackling abusive behaviour and sexual harm come into force today (24 April), all contained in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016.

Under s 6 of the Act it is now mandatory for judges to give special directions to juries in certain sexual offence trials – specifically, where there was a delay in the victim reporting the alleged offence, and where there is evidence of the victim not putting up physical resistance or the perpetrator not using physical force during the assault.

The section is intended to counter any preconceived notions jurors may have about how a person would be expected to react when they are the victim of a sexual offence.

Section 1 of the Act now makes it a statutory aggravation where an offence involved abuse of a partner or ex-partner, ensuring that the fact an offence involved domestic abuse is taken into account when sentencing the offender.

The other newly implemented provisions are s 5, which allows a criminal non-harassment order to be imposed in a wider range of circumstances, and ss 7-9, which allow for prosecution in Scottish courts of certain offences against children committed elsewhere in the UK, thereby reducing the risk of victims having to face more than one trial or of an offender evading justice if there is doubt around exactly where an offence was committed.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson commented: “As victims of sexual offences have increasing confidence in reporting to the police, this new requirement for judges to direct juries will make a real difference in enabling juries to approach court evidence in an informed way.

“All of the measures coming in to force have one thing in common. They will improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour and help ensure perpetrators are clear that their actions will have consequences.”

Rape Crisis Scotland coordinator, Sandy Brindley, added: “Survivors often tell us that during a rape they froze and were unable to fight back or scream. This is a completely natural and common reaction, but not always one that members of the public will necessarily be aware of.

“We welcome the introduction of jury directions in rape cases as a significant step forward. Providing jury members with factual information on different reactions to rape should help to ensure that verdicts in sexual offence cases are based on the evidence presented, rather than being influenced by assumptions about how rape victims should react.”

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