In the first case of its kind, a victim of sexual assault has been awarded £35,000 in compensation for the inhumane treatment she received when in the witness box. Lord Carloway condemned the behaviour of solicitor Andy Aitken and refusal to intervene from Sheriff Hammond as a ‘serious failure in the administration of justice.’ Shannon brought a case against the Lord Advocate after seeking legal advice and being told that a previous case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that judges must ensure victims of sexual crimes are protected during proceedings.
Shannon, who asked to only be referred to by her first name, was subject to a barrage of inappropriate questioning including being asked over 20 times what she was wearing that night. She was forced to endure relentless questioning and accusations. At one point during the trial she was accused of dealing drugs by the defence. This line of questioning and method of cross examination is grotesque and something Shannon should never have had to endure.
It is not unusual for victims of sexual crimes to be subjected to continuous questioning of their morals. The justice system never seems to understand that a victim of sexual crime is never ‘asking for it’ and the clothes they were wearing is never relevant. For Shannon to be continually asked what she was wearing and asked to justify the length of her clothing is inhumane. The accused who was found guilty in this case was not subjected to abuse from Shannon’s solicitor. Women should be afforded more protection in these cases and solicitors should not have the right to belittle and degrade victims of sexual crimes. They have often been through a lot to get to the point of being in court in addition to whatever sexual crime has been committed against them. Women are asked at every single step of the process whether they really think it is a good idea to continue, told that they will be torn apart in Court and asked whether they really want to go through that? This often results in victims being unable to stand trial due to the mental toll that it takes on them. The criminal justice system does not provide a safe space for victims of sexual crimes.
Shannon’s civil claim for compensation was settled out with court which unfortunately doesn’t leave much room for any precedent to be set as the exact decision in awarding the sum of £35,000 in settlement is unknown. There is no doubt that this was a tactical decision. If there was legal precedent set it would pave the way for numerous claims of inhumane treatment as unfortunately it is not a unique case. It is however hoped that the need to compensate victims for the abuse they are subjected to by solicitors in court never becomes the norm. Victims should never have to seek compensation from the justice system for the abuse they received whilst navigating it. The justice system is there to protect the public and in this instance it has been used to harm a member of the public. This case should be a learning curve for solicitors to be diligent in court cases, but not subject victims to torrents of inappropriate and unnecessary questioning.
The Crown Office have stated that “Prosecutors have been issued with additional guidance with a view to the Crown playing its part in ensuring complainers are not subjected to irrelevant and distressing questioning.” It is hoped that these cases become obsolete in the future. If you have any questions or wish to talk to someone in relation to a similar matter, please contact us on 0800 0891 331.
Blog by Jenny Scott, Solicitor