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 we are asked at Rape Crisis. We have tried to cover as much as we can from the moment you walk in the front door of the police station until the actual trial.
If you prefer you can watch a video about the processes.
If you live in Greater Glasgow you can either report the assault by telephone or in person, at your local police station or you can contact Archway which is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre staffed by women doctors, nurses, support workers and counsellors. You need to contact the Archway within seven days of the assault.
You will be seen in the first instance by a female doctor and nurse who will ask you some questions about your immediate health and also about the assault and then they will begin a forensic examination (if you are undecided about going to the police). This is so that forensic evidence can be gathered to corroborate the evidence given in your statement. This is why you should try not to wash yourself or throw away any of your clothing. Your first instinct may be to have a bath or shower and get rid of your clothing but this evidence may be essential.
You may want to bring one person along to support you at this time because waiting room space is very limited at Archway. Check with the doctor you speak to when you call and ask about bringing someone along.
In Scots Law, in order to prosecute, there must be corroborative evidence – which means two or more pieces of evidence that support each other. As there is usually only one witness in the case of a sexual assault – the woman herself – the forensic evidence may corroborate the fact that the assault took place and may assist in the identification of the perpetrator.
Your clothes may need to be kept for evidence and you can be provided with clothing by the Archway or you may ask for a relative or friend to bring clothing to you.
Nurses will also make arrangements for you to have testing for sexually transmitted infections carried out two weeks post assault and will give you information about accessing support or counselling.
You may be called back to the police station to continue giving your statement or for a further examination.
If you live outside the Archway service area you will have to make your own arrangements for sexually transmitted infections testing. Archway can give you advice about this or you can contact Rape Crisis for support or for information on support services in your area.
They will be able to wait for you but in some police stations the waiting space is limited. If you are taking someone with you they should be aware that they may have to wait a considerable time.
You may be asked to return to the police station to look at photographs or to attend an identification parade. If this happens your anonymity will be safeguarded as far as possible. Although there are still parade rooms which operate a two way mirror system, the police have now introduced video identification parades which eliminate the need for a woman to see the accused in person.
You should be able to have a short statement taken before your forensic examination with a full statement taken at a later time (usually the following day). If you have been hurt or bruised, you can ask for this. Your follow-up statement can be taken in your home or at another place such as the Rape Crisis Centre. Each case will be different and there may be a reason why it would be more suitable for your statement to be taken at the police station.
the interviews and examination, 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 committed within her/his district.
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 in Edinburgh) 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 the police and they will in turn contact you.
In some cases it may be 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 VIA contact about this. (see question below)
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 get a friend or Rape Crisis to contact the Fiscal or VIA on your behalf.
In cases where it is decided that a prosecution will not take place, you will receive a letter from the Procurator Fiscal to that effect. 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 her/his reasons to you. If proceedings are not taken it does not necessarily mean that you have not been believed, but rather than there was not enough evidence to proceed.
the accused has broken bail, has previous offences or is considered likely to
re-offend, he will be bailed under the European Convention on Human
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 he does not interfere with witnesses so if he, in any way, bothers 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 he does this should be reported to the police.
cases are always heard in the High Court.
Other offences may be heard in the Sheriff Court or High Court.
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 you do not want your address to be made known to the accused or his solicitor, you should ask the Procurator Fiscal to ensure that your address is given as care of the police office which has dealt with your case.
If you have requested that your address be withheld, your name will be provided to the defence but your address will be care of the police office.
the Procurator Fiscal no longer requires you to give a further statement
about the attack the defence lawyer will likely call you to give what is known
as a Precognition Statement.
It will be similar to the process of giving a statement to police. They may ask you some questions for clarification. You can take someone along with you for support but they may not be allowed in to the room when you are giving your statement.
The defence lawyer will send you out a letter asking you to come in at time that is convenient for you. You must attend to give this statement but if you are concerned about anything please contact your VIA representative for advice.
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.
It is also possible to arrange 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. You can arrange this directly with VIA or Witness Services at the court or, alternatively, you can ask a support worker at Rape Crisis to organise a visit and accompany you there.
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.
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.
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 also impossible to say how long you will be in the courtroom giving evidence as this varies from case to case.
When you are shown to the witness box the judge will ask you to take the oath. She/he will raise her/his right hand and ask you to do the same. She/he 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 will 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 you should be considered a vulnerable witness and therefore eligible to apply for special measures. The person who is citing you must make the application for special measures on your behalf (this will be the Crown) and if you feel that you would qualify for this you should discuss it with the Procurator Fiscal service.
The judge or sheriff will make the decision about whether to grant permission to allow a witness special measures and which measures would be most appropriate to that witness. Young people and children are regarded as vulnerable witnesses and would be automatically eligible to apply to the court.
When you are being questioned by the defence advocate you may find that he is standing beside, or very close to the accused so that he is in your line of vision when you are answering. This is an old defence ‘trick’ and is designed to unnerve you. You may want to fix your eyes on the face of the defence advocate or on his robes, or anything to keep the accused out of your line of sight.
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, she/he must consider both its relevance and the appropriate protection of your dignity and privacy.
rape cases the public benches are cleared during the time the woman is giving
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 she/he is also responsible for receiving the verdict from the jury.
Witness – you
Support Person – Can be a worker from Rape Crisis Centre, Victim Support, Witness Service etc. Arrangements need to be made, and agreed, 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.
15 Members of the Jury – Members of the public who are randomly appointed by the Crown.
2 Police/Security Escorts – Escort the accused in and out of court.
Accused – Him
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. In rape cases the public benches are cleared during the women’s evidence at the judge’s discretion.
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 a woman to need a glass of water or a seat.
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 than there was insufficient evidence for the jury to convict beyond reasonable doubt.
cases dealt with by the courts are not reported in the national press or
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 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 – the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority often wait until the outcome of a trial is known before making any decisions on whether or not to avoid compensation. See the Rape Crisis Centre’s leaflet ‘Criminal Injuries Compensation – FAQs for Women’.
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