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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 19:00 GMT
Unanimous backing for sex crime bill
Legal graphic
The bill should come into effect this year
A new law which will stop people accused of sex offences from cross-examining their alleged victims in court has received the unanimous backing of the Scottish Parliament.

The Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) (Scotland) Bill passed its final stage at Holyrood on Wednesday.

Under the new legislation those accused of rape or sex abuse will not be able to conduct their own defence.

Victims should be able to give evidence without the fear of being put in a situation where they are questioned directly by the accused

Jim Wallace
Justice Minister
The bill also restricts the use of evidence about the sexual history and character of the alleged victim.

It is expected that the new bill will be in place by the end of the year.

Justice Minister Jim Wallace said the law fulfilled a long-term commitment to protect sex abuse victims from their attackers.

"The executive does not believe that victims should be subjected to intense, often degrading, questioning from the very person who is accused of abusing them," he said.

Bill welcomed

"Victims should be able to give evidence without the fear of being put in a situation where they are questioned directly by the accused.

"It is vital that victims' concerns are taken into account, that they feel protected and that they receive the right support throughout their contact with the criminal justice system."

Mr Wallace also believes the new law will encourage more rape victims to come forward.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: "The right support"
The bill was welcomed by Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham.

However, she said more still needed to be done to protect sex abuse victims.

"This bill has been a long time coming and it's only a small step along the road," she said.

Conservative justice spokesman Lord James Douglas Hamilton voiced hopes that the legislation would improve the conviction rate in rape cases from its current level of just 20%.

"This bill may appear to be a relatively minor measure but the principle is important," he added.

'Heinous' crimes

The bill passed its final stage with the unanimous support of MSPs.

However, there was some dissent earlier when Tory MSP Phil Gallie called for those accused of rape to be given anonymity during their trial.

He said those accused of such "heinous" crimes were left with a stigma which remained even if they were acquitted.

Things on a reputation last a lifetime, even although final guilt is not proved

Phil Gallie
Tory MSP
"Friendships are affected, social standing is affected and sometimes jobs are affected," he said.

"Things on a reputation last a lifetime, even although final guilt is not proved."

However, Deputy Justice Minister Dr Richard Simpson said: "If the rape accused were given anonymity it could be difficult to resist this for those charged with other offences regarded by the public as serious.

"Our system of open justice could be undermined."

Mr Gallie's amendment was defeated by 80 votes to 10, with two abstentions.

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Scotland
Past conviction plan for rape cases
18 Dec 01 | Scotland
Judges examine rape ruling
25 Apr 01 | Scotland
Rape law clarification sought
23 Mar 01 | Scotland
Judge dismisses rape charge
09 Nov 00 | Scotland
Rape trial changes proposed
26 Sep 00 | Scotland
Minister to hear rape plea
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