Self-referral forensic medical services - retention period for evidence: consultation

The landmark Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 20 January 2021. This consultation seeks views on the appropriate retention period for evidence collected in the course of self-referral forensic medical services.


CMO - the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith.

CMO Taskforce - the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland's Taskforce for the improvement of services for adults, children and young people who have experienced rape, sexual assault or child sexual abuse([3]).

Conversion – the term used in this paper to describe the point at which a victim who self-refers for an examination, decides to makes a police report. In other words, when a self-referral case converts into a police referral case.

Evidence – the biological samples, underwear and associated forensic information collected by health boards in police and self-referral cases, during or in connection with the forensic medical examination, to support any future criminal investigation. These are described as evidence even though in self-referral cases, the victim may never decide to make a police report. Information collected by health boards for healthcare purposes is not evidence and forms part of a victim's patient records – the retention period is not relevant to such healthcare information.

FMS Act – the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021, unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament on 10 December 2020[4]. Explanatory Notes to the FMS Act will be published in the coming weeks.

Forensic Medical Examination[5] – for the purposes of this consultation, a predominantly physical examination of a victim of rape, sexual assault or child sexual abuse carried out by a qualified sexual offence examiner or forensic physician. Forensic medical examination is normally only possible within 7 days of the incident – this is sometimes referred to as the DNA capture window. Forensic medical examination is not therefore relevant to victims of historic abuse.

Forensic Medical Services – for the purposes of this consultation, services comprise a forensic medical examination to the extent the victim wishes to undergo it (the examination service), associated healthcare services (for example emergency contraception and/or treatment of any wounds where relevant) and the retention service in self-referral cases.

Police referral – the traditional model for the provision of forensic medical services where the sexual offending is reported to the police ahead of any forensic medical examination. Police referral services will continue in Scotland as they do now.

Retention period – the period of time that a health board must retain evidence collected in the course of a self-referral forensic medical examination. During the retention period, the victim may choose to make a police report, or may request the return or destruction of evidence. If however the victim does not exercise these rights, the evidence must be destroyed at the end of the retention period.

Retention service – the term used in the FMS Act to describe the requirement for health boards to retain evidence for the retention period. Although police referral services would usually involve evidence being taken away by the police shortly after examination, in exceptional circumstances where that is not possible, health boards can retain police referral evidence until it has been transferred.

Self-referral – a model for the provision of forensic medical services where the incident is not reported to the police ahead of a forensic medical examination, but allowing for certain forensic evidence to be captured and stored securely, should a police report be made at a later date. The FMS Act requires all health boards in Scotland to offer self-referral services to victims age 16 or over, subject to the application of child protection or adult support and protection guidance that may require a police report to be made.

Victim - the Scottish Government recognises that some victims of serious offences prefer to be referred to as survivors and that the term often used in the criminal justice system is complainers. In CMO Taskforce resources that support the FMS Act the word person is used. For the purposes of this consultation document, reference to victims (the word used in the title of the FMS Act) includes reference to survivors and complainers.



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