Support for victims faced with potential questioning in court about their sexual history.
Free, independent legal representation is to be provided to sexual offence victims, where applications are made to lead evidence of their sexual history in court.
Currently there are safeguards, known as rape shield laws, which are intended to stop inappropriate questioning about a victim's sexual history or bad character' during sexual offence trials.
However around 350 applications are made each year to the High Court for exemption to this law, under section 275 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
Under the new proposals announced by the First Minister in a speech to Parliament for International Women's Day, automatic access to fully funded independent legal representation and advice would be available to victims, if a section 275 application is made.
The reforms draw on recommendations from Lady Dorrian's cross-justice review on improving the management of sexual offences. This highlighted the importance of victims being provided with automatic independent legal representation to better protect their rights.
They will form part of the Criminal Justice Reform Bill, which will be introduced to Parliament before the summer recess.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: This Government has already taken important steps to ensure that the law works more effectively for women. And we have a duty to address systemic barriers to justice and the many challenges women face, at each stage of a criminal justice process that was designed by men and - to a very significant extent - for men.
One especially intrusive aspect of criminal procedure arises when requests are made to lead evidence about a victim's sexual history or so-called bad character'. As a result, Lady Dorrian, in her review, highlighted the importance of victims having access to automatic independent legal representation in these circumstances.
The Scottish Government is supportive of that, and I can confirm that the forthcoming Bill will propose that women in these circumstances will have access to free, independent legal representation.
The proposals follow on from two other announcements made earlier yesterday, as part of International Women's Day, to ensure the law works more effectively for women. These are:
- the launch of a consultation on draft reforms, which would create five new laws to provide police and prosecutors with new powers to tackle the corrosive effects of misogyny.
- Scottish Government support for the creation of a dedicated law clinic which will provide free, trauma-informed legal support victims of sexual offences and gender-based violence. Named after the former head of Engender Scotland, Emma Ritch, the clinic will be the first of its kind in Scotland and help increase access to justice for victims across the country. [link to release]