Advocacy & support project

The Advocacy Worker works with survivors who have engaged, or are considering engaging, with the criminal justice system following a sexual crime. She can meet with you face to face, or talk to you over the phone or through email. Any discussions are covered by the same Confidentiality Policy as any other contact you have with the centre.

The Advocacy Worker can help you by:

  • Providing information about what would happen if you reported to the police;
  • Arranging for you to have an informal discussion with a specially trained plain clothes police officer, or give a statement, in a safe space of your choice;
  • Linking with Police to ensure you are kept up to date with progress of any ongoing investigation;
  • Providing information about what could happen if the case goes to court, what your rights are, and the timescales involved;
  • Linking with court services to ensure you are kept up to date with the progress of a court case, and have measures & supports to attend court;
  • Providing information about claiming Criminal Injuries Compensation;
  • Supporting you and keeping you informed throughout the whole criminal justice process.

If you think you would like to speak to the Advocacy Worker, please contact us on 01896 661 070 or email support@sbrcc.org.uk

It can be overwhelming when you are thinking about reporting or going to court. We can provide you with some information that might help you to make up your mind and support you along the way. When a survivor has suffered a sexual assault it can be very difficult for her to decide whether or not she wants to report the incident to the police.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted and have decided to report to the police, the prospect of facing the complexities of the legal system can be quite frightening. The legal system is very complicated. We don’t know all of the answers to all of the questions, but we have listed below some of the most common questions.

If you prefer you can watch a video about the processes made by Rape Crisis Scotland.

This video is for anyone who is thinking about reporting a sexual crime or who has already reported and their case is currently in Scottish justice system. There are interviews with key professionals and an overview of how to report and what you may expect at each stage of the process.

If you are thinking of reporting to the police, it might take a few hours to make the report. Usually you are asked to make a statement when you report but you can ask to speak with an officer first and then decide if you want to report. You can ask for a female officer if that makes you feel more comfortable, and you can ask for the statement to be taken in a place you have chosen.

If you do not remember everything don't worry, you can add to the statement. It can be a good idea to take the name and number of the police officer who you see in case you do wish to add to your statement.

If the attack or abuse that you experienced happened some time ago, you will be asked to give a statement but you will not be asked to have an examination. If you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted, you will be asked to have a medical examination. You can ask for a female doctor but depending on the area you live in this might not be possible. The timescale can be quite important as the examination is looking for forensic evidence. The timescales for forensic evidence from an internal source are within the first 72 hours, however other forensic evidence such as a hair or stains to clothing can be detected for between 5 and 7 days.

If you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted it is very natural to want to wash, or to take a drink to help with shock. This can destroy evidence so police advice is to try not to wash or eat or drink anything before going to the police. If you have changed out of the clothing you were wearing at the time of the assault, you should take this with you to give to the police.

If it has been a recent attack it is likely that you will be asked to return to where it happened so that further evidence can be gathered. It is also possible that you will be asked to return to the police station a couple of days after you report in case bruising has become visible.

Whether the attack has been recent or happened a long time ago it is entirely your own decision to report. It can however, be helpful to talk it through or to get some support. You can take a friend or relative to the police station to wait for you and give support, or you can contact the Advocacy Worker if you want to talk it through.

After the police interviews and investigation, and providing the perpetrator has been identified, the police then prepare a report for the Procurator Fiscal. The Procurator Fiscal is the public official responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

On the basis of such reports, the Procurator Fiscal may decide to initiate criminal proceedings, or may instruct the police to make further investigations. The Procurator Fiscal, whilst taking into account the interests of the victim of a crime, will also consider whether it is in the public interest to proceed. A report will then be submitted to the Crown Office (the Procurator Fiscal’s headquarters) where it will be decided if there are to be further criminal proceedings.

The statement that you give to the police will form the basis of what the Crown Office presents at the trial, if the prosecutor decides they need more information or clarification they will contact you to arrange a meeting, or precognition. In some cases a defence agent may also contact you for precognition.

It is possible to see your original police statement before the trial begins. This can be read at the Procurator Fiscal's office. Some cases can take up to a year to come to court so you may feel like you want to read your statement again. This is entirely up to you and you can speak to your Victim Information & Advice (VIA) contact about this.

Victim Information & Advice (VIA) is part of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). VIA staff are not prosecutors: their job is to provide information regarding the process of a specific case to victims and witnesses involved. They can also provide information about how the criminal justice system works and can arrange help and support at the time of the trial.

There can often be some time delay between reporting a rape or sexual assault to the police and being contacted by the Procurator Fiscal’s office. If the accused appears in court after arrest, VIA officers will keep you informed as to the progress of the case. There can be delays between the various times that the accused will appear in court or when the Crown will contact you for information. Although these delays are normal, it can be quite upsetting not knowing what is happening with your case. You are entitled to phone the Fiscal’s office or to contact VIA at any time to check what is happening. If you do not feel able to do this, you can ask a friend or the Advocacy Worker to contact the Fiscal or VIA on your behalf.

If the trial is going ahead you will receive notification that you must appear as a witness to give evidence for the prosecution. If the accused pleads guilty you will not have to appear.

In cases where it is decided that a prosecution will not take place, you will receive a letter from the Procurator Fiscal. The letter will advise you of the proposed decision. If you wish, a meeting can be arranged to enable you to discuss the matter more fully.

You may not be informed of the reasons why proceedings are not being taken. This information is confidential and the Procurator Fiscal may not be at liberty to disclose their reasons to you. If proceedings are not taken it does not mean that you have not been believed, but rather that there was not enough evidence to proceed.

Unless the accused has broken bail, has previous offences or is considered likely to re-offend, they will be bailed under the European Convention on Human Rights. A person cannot be held in custody until proven guilty unless the above applies. This can be very upsetting, particularly if he lives near you. However, a condition of his bail will be that they do not interfere with witnesses so if they bother you, you should report this to the police immediately.

Additionally, the court may impose a further special condition of bail that the accused does not approach, contact or attempt to contact you. If they do this should be reported to the police.

When bail is imposed VIA should be in touch with you to inform you of the conditions. If they are unable to contact you they may ask the police to inform you by the end of the day, for your own safety.

Rape cases are always heard in the High Court. The nearest High Court is in Edinburgh but sometimes the case may need to be moved to another court such as Glasgow. Other offences may be heard in the local Sheriff Court or High Court.

No, you don’t need any legal representation whatsoever. You have done nothing wrong so you don’t need any defence. The Procurator Fiscal will be prosecuting on behalf of the Crown. You will be a witness for the prosecution.

If the accused is remanded in custody the trial has to call in court within 140 days. If they are out on bail the trial has to call in court within a year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the trial will be heard on that date. It may be adjourned until a later date.

Cases can be adjourned or delayed on numerous occasions for a variety of reasons. It may be that either the Crown or defence ask for more time, witnesses may be unavailable or because of the number of cases to be heard within that particular court sitting.

You will receive a citation which gives details of the place and time when you should attend court. You will also be given information about what will happen. VIA will offer you a pre-trial visit to the court which will allow you to visit a court room and ask any questions about proceedings which you may have. VIA will also discuss with you any supports and measures to be put in place to help you give evidence. Victims of sexual and domestic abuse are entitled to special measures.

If the date or time you have to attend court is unsuitable for you, you should contact the Procurator Fiscal’s office immediately. It may be possible to make alternative arrangements.

On the day you have been told to attend court you should attend promptly and bring your citation with you. You will be directed to a waiting room where you will remain until you are required to give evidence.

It is impossible to say how long the case will take. You might have to wait for some time before giving your evidence, but you can take a friend or support worker along with you, and you will be offered a court supporter from the Witness Service.

You may arrive at court and be told you can go home. This may happen for a number of reasons: the man may have changed his plea to guilty, or the trial may have been postponed. You should get an explanation right away if this happens but you can contact VIA or the Procurator Fiscal’s office to find out. This situation will hopefully be avoided as VIA should be able to inform you in advance.

It is impossible to say how long you will be in the courtroom giving evidence as this varies from case to case.

You will be taken into the courtroom by the Macer and shown to the witness box where you should remain standing. If this is difficult for you, after you have taken the oath you may ask the judge for permission to sit down. It is at the judge’s discretion whether or not this is allowed. If you have a court supporter they will go into the courtroom with you.

When you are shown to the witness box the judge will ask you to take the oath. They will raise their right hand and ask you to do the same. They will then say the words of the oath and ask you to repeat them.

After you have taken the oath, you will be asked questions by the prosecution. The prosecutor will either be a member of the Procurator Fiscal’s staff or (in High Court cases) an Advocate.

You will be first asked your name, address, age and occupation. If you have asked for your address not to be disclosed it will be given as care of the police station who dealt with your statement.

Your responsibility as a witness is to answer all questions put to you truthfully and to the best of your recollection. Where you do not understand a particular question, you are entitled to ask for clarification.

You do not have the right to refuse to answer any questions with certain limited exceptions. However, the judge has discretion to allow or disallow questions. You may find that you are asked a question which is then objected to. If this happens, you may be asked to leave the courtroom and there will be a legal argument as to whether or not the question requires to be answered.

When you have finished giving your evidence you will either be asked to remain in court or be told by the judge that you are excused from further attendance. If you wish, you may sit in the public benches and view the rest of the proceedings.

If you are giving evidence about sexual violence that happened to you then VIA will offer to arrange for you to give evidence from behind a screen. This and other available special measures are designed to protect witnesses from further trauma while giving evidence in court. Special measures also might allow a witness to give evidence via a live television link.

Young people and children would be automatically eligible for special measures.

After the initial questions, you will be asked in detail about the attack itself. You will be questioned by the prosecutor, then by the accused’s lawyer, and possibly again by the prosecution if they wish to clarify any points. The only other person who can question you is the judge, who may do so at any time. The accused person cannot question you and will be represented by his defence throughout the trial.

The Sexual Offences (Procedures and Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2002 places limits on this type of questioning. In a trial relating to rape and certain other crimes of indecency, the court will not allow questions to be asked which are designed to show that the victim:

  1. a) is not of good character (whether in relation to sexual matters or otherwise)
    b) has at any time engaged in sexual behaviour not forming part of the subject matter of the charge
    c) has at any time (other than shortly before, at the same time as or shortly after the acts which form part of the subject matter of the charge) engaged in such behaviour, not being sexual behaviour, as might found the inference that the complainer -
    (i) is likely to have consented to those acts: or
    (ii) is not a credible or reliable witness: or
    d) has, at any time, been subject to any such conditions or predisposition as might found the inference referred to in sub-paragraph (c) above

There are exceptions to the restrictions listed above but the defence must apply in writing to the court if they want to introduce any questioning about past sexual behaviour. It is difficult to say for definite what type of questions will or will not be allowed as these applications are decided on a case by case basis. However, when the judge is deciding whether or not to admit this type of evidence, they must consider both its relevance and the appropriate protection of your dignity and privacy.

In rape cases the public benches are cleared during the time the complainer is giving their evidence.

However, there can still be a number of people in the courtroom. These will be:

  • The Judge – Who oversees the trial and advises on points of law
  • Clerk of Court – Who records the court proceedings and ensures relevant paperwork is present for the case. In addition they are also responsible for receiving the verdict from the jury.
  • Witness
  • Court Support – Can be someone known to the witness but is usually someone from Witness Service or Victim Support. Arrangements need to be made by VIA prior to the case going ahead in court.
  • Defence Advocate – QC (Queen’s Counsel) representing the accused.
  • Defence Solicitor – Accused’s lawyer
  • Advocate Depute and Assistant – Prosecute on behalf of the Crown
  • Macer – Escorts witnesses and jury to and from the court room. Also provides trial with productions e.g. photographs, clothing and weapons.
  • Members of the Jury – Members of the public who are randomly appointed by the Crown.
  • Police/Security Escorts – Escort the accused in and out of court.
  • Accused
  • Press – Very occasionally the press will be present.
  • Court Recorder – Tape records the court proceedings and plays any video evidence.

Remember, although there are several people within the courtroom only 3 of these people will participate in the trial: the judge, the advocate depute, and the defence advocate.

Yes. He is present during the whole trial.

If you need to ask for a glass of water or a seat, or if you feel unwell, you can ask the judge for permission to sit down or for a short break.

The questioning may take some time and can be tiring – it is not uncommon for witnesses to need a glass of water or a seat.

Someone from the Procurator Fiscal’s office or VIA will contact you with the outcome of the case.

The jury’s decision after hearing all the evidence and the judge’s direction can be ‘guilty’, ‘not guilty’ or ‘not proven’. The jury can reach its decision by majority vote (at least eight must vote for a guilty verdict) or unanimously.

A verdict of ‘not guilty’ or ‘not proven’ does not necessarily mean that you have not been believed, but rather that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to convict beyond reasonable doubt.

Most cases dealt with by the courts are not reported in the national press or television.

However, the media have wide powers of reporting and generally there are few restrictions on reports of proceedings other than those involved in persons under 16 years, either as a witness or accused.

By convention, the names of rape victims are not given in such reports.

You can claim criminal injuries compensation if you have reported the attack to the police. The case does not have to have been proceeded with, nor is a conviction necessary.

You do need to apply as soon as possible after the assault, usually within two years, although there may be exceptions to this time limit, for instances in cases of child abuse.

If your case is going to court you may want to wait until after the court case before applying for criminal injuries compensation, bearing in mind the time limit – the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority often wait until the outcome of a trial is known before making any decisions on whether or not to award compensation.