17 04 2008

Justice system ‘fails’ sex victim

BBC News

16 April 2008

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/7349900.stm

A woman with a learning disability who was sexually assaulted has been denied justice because she was not judged a reliable witness, a report has said.

The Mental Welfare Commission investigated the case of the 67-year-old woman known as “Miss A”.

She was sexually assaulted by five men over the past decade – none of whom have ever been prosecuted, despite the attacks being reported to police.

The commission fears the case of Miss A may not be an isolated example.

Between 1999 to 2006, Miss A was believed to have been subjected to no fewer than 12 incidents of rape, attempted rape and serious sexual assault.

Four of these incidents, all of which were reported to the police and the fiscal, involved one man.

In its report, the commission said that the services responsible for Miss A had been unable to protect her from the attacks.

The report stated: “These assaults had taken place over a prolonged period of time by several individuals who were known to Miss A.

“We also found that, in combination with those of health and social care services, the responses of the criminal justice system had effectively denied Miss A access to the criminal justice system.

“These apparent failings mean that no-one has been prosecuted for alleged offences against Miss A.

“Those who pose a known risk to her safety remain at large within her community, while Miss A continues to endure a protective regime that effectively deprives her of much of her liberty.”

‘Share information’

The report said the assessment which concluded Miss A would be unable to give reliable evidence was not informed by the professionals who knew her best.

“We think that the assessment of Miss A’s capacity to be a reliable witness was far too complex an issue to have been undertaken without the involvement of those who were closely involved in her ongoing care,” the report added.

“There is also no clear evidence that professionals had considered how support and preparation might have helped Miss A to act as a witness.”

Donald Lyons, director of the Mental Welfare Commission, said the report raised a “number of concerns”.

He told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “This woman is a prisoner in her own house and it is her liberty that has been declined as a result of all this.

“We think that her ability to give evidence in court was underestimated, and even before then there were failings by the health and social work services to share information, protect her, to keep her safe.”

Mr Lyons said the commission believed the woman could have given reliable evidence in court.

“Ultimately it may be that even though Scotland has some excellent laws in this area, the law is not good enough to give this lady access to justice that the UN Convention on the rights of the disabled person requires,” he added.

“Can it possibly be right that she is subjected to that degree of deprivation of liberty when she is the victim here?”

In response to the report, the Scottish Government said that the recommendations would be considered to ensure that the justice system continued to improve the protection and support of people with learning disabilities.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “We need to take the advice of experts and in this case we took the advice of the foremost recognised experts in Scotland, who knew Miss A and her circumstances and needs.

“The advice received was that Miss A would not be a reliable witness.”

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