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Before the world was struck down by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic one of the biggest stories in the news was Alex Salmond’s trial at Edinburgh High Court.

Having been charged with 13 offences against 9 different women, said to have taken place between June 2008 and November 2014, Alex Salmond was acquitted on all counts on the 23rd March 2020. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, nine women bravely came forward and gave their testimonies which led to the former First Minister facing 12 charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault and 1 charge of sexual assault with intent to rape. My colleague, Shona Cocksedge, already wrote about the challenges survivors face in coming forward and naming their abusers[1], especially a public figure such as the former First Minister of Scotland.

Before the 11 day trial began on 9th March the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) tweeted “Court is the only appropriate public forum for the discussion of matters of fact or law in live criminal cases…Contempt of Court exists to protect the integrity of proceedings, preserver access to justice for victims and to secure the right of the accused.”[2] This was further reiterated the day after the trial began where the COPFS again tweeted about the order that had been put in place preventing the publication of the names, identity, and any information which could lead to the identity of the complainers becoming known. Indeed the order is still in place yet there is a daily increasing risk that these women could, one way or another, be identified.

It does need to be said (unfortunately) that the ‘not guilty’ and ‘not proven’ verdicts do not in turn automatically make these women liars. That is not how this justice system works. It means the evidence presented before the Court and jurors failed to meet the standard required in criminal cases, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, to secure a conviction. Alex Salmond had the right of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Equally, the women who came forward as witnesses have a right, which was imposed by the Court, to anonymity.

Since the verdict was announced eight days ago these women have continued to face the threat of their right to anonymity being taken from them. Rape Crisis Scotland released a statement following the verdict being announced. In their statement[3] they recognised that “trivialising behaviours that would amount to sexual assault risks turning the clock back on any progress we have made moving towards a better conversation about sexual violence.”

In my previous blog I wrote about the feelings of shame, embarrassment and mistrust survivors already feel having gone through an incident or period of abuse and in some few instances have tried to report it. Such a backlash from senior political figure and media will only be used a means of compounding those feelings of guilt and shame and in turn only further hinder women and survivors coming forward and disclosing their traumatic ordeals.

Many survivors will not see the full impact they will have should they decide to come forward and disclose their abuse. Our Emma Wheelhouse has already discussed the importance of corroborating evidence through the Moorov Doctrine. Every survivor, regardless of the time that has passed or the individual responsible for the abuse, deserves the chance to obtain justice. The Survivors Department at Thompsons affirm the statement by Rape Crisis Scotland “We believe you. You are not alone and there are so many people on your side.”

If you have been affected or know anyone affected by abuse you can speak to the Survivors Department on a confidential basis.

Blog by Daniel Canning, Solicitor

 

[1] https://www.thompsons-scotland.co.uk/blog/historic-abuse/from-savile-to-epstein-turning-the-tide-on-the-entitlement-of-abusers

[2] https://twitter.com/COPFS/status/1232991676899221504

[3] https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/news/news/statement-on-salmond-verdict/

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