In February 2019 we jointly supported a Scottish Government consultation on legislation to improve forensic medical services for victims of rape and sexual assault. Much has changed and improved over the last two years. Legislation introduced to the Scottish Parliament was passed unanimously in December 2020 – the landmark Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021.
In parallel to the legislative process, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland's Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce has done much to transform the experience of victims accessing healthcare and forensic medical services. Backed by £10 million Scottish Government funding over four years, the Taskforce's vision of consistent, person centred, trauma informed care and access to recovery is increasingly being realised across the country.
A key Taskforce achievement is that forensic medical examinations now take place in an appropriate healthcare setting, and no longer in police stations. This and the new FMS Act pave the way for a national model of "self-referral" which is what this new consultation concerns. Self-referral means that a victim of rape or sexual assault aged over 16 may access healthcare and forensic medical services without having to report the offending to the police at the outset.
We strongly support self-referral because it gives victims control over what happens to them at a time when it has been taken away. Self-referral puts victims' healthcare and recovery front and centre whilst also supporting any future criminal justice process.
This consultation specifically concerns the "retention period" for evidence collected in the course of self-referral forensic medical services. This will be the statutory time period for which evidence such as biological samples must be held by health boards. Based on the evidence gathered of best practice elsewhere in the UK, the Taskforce has recommended to us that a retention period of 26 months (two years, two months). We welcome your views on this to help inform the development of this policy.
Jeane Freeman OBE MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
Humza Yousaf MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice
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