UN convention against torture: our position statement

Account of progress in Scotland in giving effect to the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in advance of a review of the UK by the UN Committee Against Torture in May 2019.

Violence against women and girls

“ Tackling violence against women and girls is the role of every individual, every community and every institution in Scotland and the Scottish Government is committed to leading a collective response and playing our part to make that happen.”

Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Equalities, 28 November 2017

Efforts to eliminate violence against women

10. Please provide updated information on the legislative, administrative and other measures taken to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, gender-based bullying in the education system and female genital mutilation. Please also provide updated information on the protection and support services available to victims of gender-based violence in the State party. Please include statistical data, disaggregated by the age and ethnicity or nationality of the victims, on the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sentences handed down in cases of gender-based violence since the consideration of the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in May 2013.

Violence against women and girls

The Scottish Government is implementing Equally Safe,[34] Scotland’s strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls – working with stakeholders to prevent violence from occurring in the first place, build the capability and capacity of mainstream and specialist services to support survivors and those at risk, and strengthen the Justice response to victims and perpetrators. Central to the Scottish Government approach is primary prevention of violence, which seeks to change attitudes and tackle inequality. The 2017-18 PfG contained a commitment to publish and implement a delivery plan for Equally Safe. Following a consultation on a draft version, Equally SafeA Delivery Plan for Scotland’s Strategy to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls was published on 24 November 2017.[35]

On 15 February 2019, the Scottish Government launched a consultation paper, Equally Safe: a consultation on legislation to improve forensic medical services for victims of rape and sexual assault.[36] The consultation, which can be tracked via twitter channel @EquallySafeScot and #EquallySafeFMS, seeks views from health and justice organisations, medical professionals, the third sector and survivors. The paper includes a commitment to take a human rights approach to the development of a Bill, in line with the recommendations of the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018[37] creates a new specific offence of domestic abuse, which provides that it is an offence for a person to engage in a course of behaviour that is abusive of their partner. The definition includes physical violence and overt threats, and psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour, which are difficult to prosecute using the existing law.

The 2018 Act makes provision for a number of reforms to criminal procedure intended to prevent the abuse of a complainer through the court process, for example by prohibiting the accused from personally conducting their own defence or precognition of the complainer. It provides for a presumption against bail where someone is accused on indictment of a domestic abuse offence – or any serious sexual or violent offence – and has a previous track record of serious violent, sexual or domestic abuse offending. The Act also makes provision for the leading of expert evidence and provides for a presumption that the court shall impose a non-harassment order on a person convicted of domestic abuse unless, in the particular case, the court concludes such an order is not necessary to protect the victim.

The Act provides for a statutory sentencing aggravation that where the perpetrator uses a child in committing the offence; directs behaviour at a child in committing the offence; where the child sees, hears or is present when the abuse is taking place; or where a child is likely to be adversely affected by the perpetrator’s behaviour, the offence is aggravated. Where the aggravation is proven, the court is required to take account of this in sentencing the offender and state how the sentence differed from that which the court would otherwise have imposed. This ensures that the harm caused to children by the abuse of their parent or carer is formally recognised and recorded.

It is anticipated that the new offence will come into force in early 2019. Effective implementation is important: the Scottish Government is ensuring training for 14,000 police officers and staff, and is working with police, COPFS and third sector stakeholders to consider what measures must be put in place.

The following provisions of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016[38] came into force on 24 April 2017:

  • the introduction of a “statutory domestic abuse aggravator” to ensure courts take domestic abuse into account when sentencing offenders
  • power for courts to make non-harassment orders in cases where they cannot do so at present
  • a requirement for judges to give juries specific directions when dealing with sexual offence cases to help improve access to justice for victims
  • the extension of Scottish courts’ extra-territorial jurisdiction over sexual offences committed against children to cover the other jurisdictions of the UK

The 2017 Act also created a specific offence of sharing private intimate images without consent (commonly known as “revenge porn”), with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, which came into force on 3 July 2017. Through the work of the Equally Safe Justice Expert Group, the Scottish Government is looking at both medium- and longer-term improvements that can be made to the justice system for all victims of this type of violence, including domestic abuse victims and their children.

The Scottish Government undertook a publicity campaign – Not yours to share – to coincide with the commencement of the offence criminalising the non-consensual sharing of intimate images in the 2016 Act.[39] The campaign aimed both to raise awareness of the new offence and to challenge “victim blaming” attitudes.

In the face of significant austerity, equality funding has been held in Scotland at similar levels since 2012.The Scottish Government is investing significant levels of funding to tackle violence against women and girls, including nearly £30 million over 2017-20 from the Equality budget. This includes direct provision for front line domestic abuse and sexual assault services, as well as funding for the National Domestic Abuse, Forced Marriage and Rape Crisis Helplines. The Scottish Government has also invested an additional £20 million over 2015-18 from Justice budgets, which includes increased support for advocacy provision.

Additional funding of £30,000 (from the £20 million Violence against Women and Girls Justice Fund) was allocated to Rape Crisis Scotland to develop a campaign to increase public understanding of responses to rape.[40] The campaign complements the jury directions provisions introduced by the 2016 Act, which introduce a requirement for judges to give directions to juries on how people may respond to becoming a victim of rape. These directions are designed to ensure that any pre-conceived views about how someone who has been raped should react do not influence how a jury reaches a decision in a case.

Police Scotland has established a National Domestic Abuse Taskforce to target the most prolific perpetrators, and the Crown Office has a dedicated National Prosecutor for Domestic Abuse. A new Joint Protocol has been published, which commits Police Scotland and COPFS to a consistent and robust approach to domestic abuse, and recognises the significant and enduring impact that domestic abuse can have on victims and children.

There are currently 477 refuge spaces in Scotland for women and their children affected by domestic abuse.

Legal aid is available to victims of domestic and gender-based violence seeking protection through civil actions, where they meet the statutory eligibility criteria. There is no residency test and no requirement to demonstrate that domestic abuse has taken place. In criminal cases, the state investigates offences and prosecutes alleged offenders. Victims of domestic and gender-based violence have the status of “complainer” and can access advice and assistance on the criminal process.

In addition to the general availability of publicly-funded legal assistance, the Scottish Government has provided funding, through SLAB, to support the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, which offers free legal information and advice to women who have experienced gender-based violence, including a national helpline. The Scottish Government has also made available publicly-funded legal assistance for those seeking representation in recovery proceedings where sensitive records are sought, following the judgment in WF v Scottish Ministers [2016] CSOH 27.

The Scottish Government Justice Directorate commissioned a national scoping exercise of advocacy services relating to the criminal justice system for victims of violence against women and girls.[41] The exercise included advocacy services for victims of domestic abuse, prostitution, human trafficking, rape and sexual assault, and advocacy services available for children and for men where these may have an impact on women’s services.

The Scottish Government funds a number of women’s support organisations that provide specialist services for black and ethnic minority women, for instance Shakti, Saheliya, Kenyan Women in Scotland Association (KWISA) and Community Infosource. These community-based organisations work to support women affected by so-called honour-based violence, including FGM, forced marriage and domestic abuse.


The recently refreshed Respect for All: National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People[42] will help everyone involved in the lives of children and young people to identify and address all types of bullying, whether it happens online or offline. The Scottish Government will continue to wholly fund respectme, the national anti-bullying service, to build confidence and capacity to address all types of bullying effectively, aligned to Respect for All.

Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education is an integral part of the health and wellbeing area of the school curriculum in Scotland.[43] The curriculum is not statutory and it is for local authorities and schools to decide how to deliver the curriculum based on local needs and circumstances. The Scottish Government published updated guidance for teachers in 2014,[44] which encourages equality and mutual respect from an early age and will support teachers to deal with issues such as misogyny in schools. Through the delivery of RSHP education, all children and young people are encouraged to understand the importance of consent, dignity and respect for themselves and the views of others. In addition, the Mentors in Violence Prevention Scotland Programme[45] aims to tackle gender stereotyping and attitudes that condone violence against women and girls.

The Scottish Government committed to undertaking a national review of personal and social education (PSE), which commenced in July 2017 and was conducted in three phases. The review also considered the role of guidance in local authority schools, services for counselling and the evidence base for children and young people.

Review of Personal and Social Education: preparing Scotland’s children and young people for learning, work and life[46] was published on 23 January 2019. It identified 16 priority actions to strengthen the delivery of PSE and the wider network of pastoral guidance available to all pupils. The recommendations include:

  • a new toolkit to improve learning in health and wellbeing;
  • an enhanced support network offering pastoral guidance to every pupil;
  • new guidance to ensure consent education is taught in a manner appropriate to children and young people’s age and stage of learning, and is relevant to the issues facing children and young people in today’s society, especially from online influences; and
  • new resources to support all school staff and pupils, with an initial focus on resources to address the issue of sexual harassment in schools.

The Review has recognised the important and vital role that young people themselves can play in delivering engaging learning. A senior phase PSE Mentoring programme will be established to enable pupils to design and deliver aspects of PSE, providing opportunities for young people to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence.

The recommendations will be taken forward by a new Delivery and Implementation Group, which will monitor progress against each of the recommendations, with the aim of full delivery by the end of the current parliamentary session in March 2021.

Female genital mutilation

Scotland’s National Action Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2016-2020[47] sets out a range of agreed actions and associated activities to be taken forward by the Scottish Government and its partners to prevent and ultimately eradicate FGM. A multi-agency National Implementation Group, which includes statutory and third sector and community based organisations, is overseeing the implementation and monitoring progress. A Year One Update was published in October 2017.[48]

To support the action plan, over £250,000 has been invested(2017-18) and the Scottish Government will continue to invest a similar amount over the period 2017-20. Multi-agency guidance was published in November 2017,[49] setting out how agencies, individually and together, can protect girls and young women from FGM, and how to respond appropriately to survivors.

FGM has been unlawful in Scotland since 1985. The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005re-enacted the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 and extended protection by making it a criminal offence to have FGM carried out either in Scotland or abroad by giving those offences extra-territorial powers. Amendments made by the Serious Crime Act 2015 closed a loophole in the 2005 Act to extend the reach of the extra-territorial offences to habitual (as well as permanent) UK residents.

All referrals made to the police from partner agencies in relation to concerns for girls who were at risk of harm from FGM have been fully investigated and no criminality has been found.

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland,[50] which is used by all children’s services such as education, includes a section on FGM. If there are concerns that a school pupil may have been subject to, or may be at risk of, FGM, this becomes a child protection matter and Part 4 of the National Guidance provides advice. Other resources to assist schools raise awareness of, and respond to, potential cases of FGM include a UK Home Office leaflet entitled Female Genital Mutilation – the Facts,[51] and training materials produced by the Women’s Support Project.[52]

Investigations and prosecutions

A range of statistical data is collated by the Scottish Government on convictions and victims of crime, including cases involving gender-based violence. For example, statistical information on domestic abuse incidents is collated by adding a specific marker to any offence where the conduct falls within the overall category of domestic abuse. In the financial year 2017-18, proceedings were initiated against 11,800 people in Scottish courts for an offence with a domestic abuse marker and resulted in 9,782 convictions. The penalties for people convicted of an offence with a domestic abuse marker included custodial sentences (15%), community sentences (33%), financial penalties (22%) and other sentences (31%), which were mostly made up of admonishments.

Further relevant data can be found in the following Scottish Government publications:

  • Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, 2016-17[53]
  • Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2017-18[54]
  • Reconviction Rates in Scotland, 2015-16 offender cohort[55]
  • Recorded Crime In Scotland, 2017-18[56]
  • Domestic Abuse in Scotland, 2017-18[57]

Victims and witnesses

The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014[58] introduces measures to improve support for victims and witnesses and helps meet Scotland’s obligations under European Directive 2012/29/EU,[59] which establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

In Scotland, children are entitled to special measures to assist with giving evidence in court. This can include the court allowing pre-recorded statements to be admitted into evidence by means of a prior statement (as evidence-in-chief) or allowing evidence to be taken by a commissioner appointed by the court. Evidence by a commissioner can be used for evidence-in-chief, cross examination and re-examination, and must be visually recorded.

For child witnesses, the prior statement can take the form of a visually recorded Joint Investigative Interview (JII). This is carried out by police and social work investigative interviewers mainly for evidential purposes and to assess if necessary whether the child (or any other child) is in need of protection. The interview is conducted in a way that treats the best interests of the child as a primary consideration and includes the gathering of evidence when it is suspected a crime may have been committed against the child and gathering of evidence which may lead to a ground or referral to a children’s hearing being established.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) led work on an Evidence and Procedure Review, intended to take Scotland towards a criminal justice system at the forefront of best practice in relation to children and vulnerable witnesses. This included the publication of the 2015 Evidence and Procedure Review[60] and the 2016 Evidence and Procedure Review – Next Steps.[61]

The 2016 Next Steps report emphasised the importance of ensuring such interviews are of a consistently high standard and follows a methodology that produces the best possible outcome in terms both of the witness’ experience and the quality of evidence elicited. The report recommended that the current guidelines for interviewing children, which were issued in 2011, should be reviewed and updated. Further recommendations were made for how the current model for JIIs and the initial interview process could be strengthened, including reviewing training for specialist interviewers, and improving the technology and facilities available to support child victims and witnesses to provide the best possible evidence.

The Scottish Government is working with key partners to take forward these recommendations. A joint project is currently underway by Police Scotland and Social Work Scotland to create a revised model for JIIs and develop a training programme which recognises the depth of knowledge and skills required for this interview process. The project will also design national standards for quality assuring JIIs, and develop key principles for new statutory guidance for JIIs. Improving the quality of these interviews should lead to their increased use as a child’s evidence in chief in criminal proceedings.

The Evidence and Procedure Review also considered whether the best use is being made of pre-recorded evidence. The SCTS has launched a revised High Court Practice Note, Taking of evidence of a vulnerable witness by a commissioner,[62] which came into effect on 8 May 2017. The Practice Note aims to encourage better preparation in the use of existing legislation to allow child and other vulnerable witnesses to provide pre-recorded evidence in front of a person commissioned by the court, avoiding the need to attend court to give evidence at the trial, thereby reducing the risk of future trauma to the witness.

Between 29 June and 29 September 2017, the Scottish Government consulted on pre-recording evidence of child and other vulnerable witnesses.[63] The focus of the consultation was on addressing identified legislative and practical gaps within the current arrangements for enabling child and other vulnerable witnesses to have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of trial, with a particular focus on strengthening and improving the current arrangements for evidence being taken by a Commissioner. The analysis of consultation responses, of which there were 47 from individuals and organisations, was published in December 2017.[64] The majority of respondents were supportive of the removal of legislative barriers to the greater use of pre-recording and the longer-term aim of a presumption in favour of child and vulnerable adult witnesses having all their evidence taken in advance of the criminal trial. There was general support for the initial focus being on child witnesses and complainers and also for focusing on the most serious crimes in the High Court.

To facilitate these legislative changes, in September 2017 the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce a Bill on Vulnerable Witnesses and Prerecorded Evidence. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 12 June 2018.[65] It is intended to add to wider improvements to strengthen and improve the rights and experiences of victims and witnesses, and remove any legislative barriers to enable the greater use of pre-recorded evidence.



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