Health and Sport Committee backs Bill prioritising healthcare needs of sexual offence victims

07.09.2020

Proposals to put the healthcare needs of victims of sexual offences at the forefront of forensic medical services have been endorsed by the Health and Sport Committee in a report issued today.

The Committee’s Stage 1 report follows their consideration of the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill. 

The Bill places responsibility on NHS boards to provide forensic medical services to victims of sexual offences. It would also allow victims over the age of 16 to self-refer to NHS facilities and have forensic evidence taken and retained, before deciding if, how and when they want to report the incident to the police. 

In welcoming the proposals, the Committee supports the Bill’s assertion that the individual has a right to decide whether to report an incident to the police. The Committee believes that self-referral empowers individuals giving them choice and control around the accessing of medical support, as well as potentially reducing the psychological trauma. 

However, the Committee would like to see the Bill strengthened to ensure victims are provided with the information they need when deciding whether to report. If information is not readily available on areas such as the length of time evidence is retained, then individuals cannot make an informed choice about if, or when, they involve the police. Furthermore, the Committee acknowledges that self-referral will only benefit victims if they are made aware it is an option.

Speaking as the report was published, Health and Sport Committee Convener, Lewis Macdonald MSP, said:

“Victims of sexual offences should be able to access medical treatment in as simple a manner as possible.

“Our Committee supports this legislation and believes it is a much-needed step forward in putting victim’s needs and rights first, whilst also improving access to forensic medical examinations. 

“This Bill empowers victims, placing the decision of whether to report incidents in their hands and this principle is one that is strongly supported by the Committee.

“However, we want to make sure that those who do self-refer are making an informed choice, and providing a statutory right to independent advocacy would assist in achieving this.”

The Committee has made several recommendations in the report, including:

  • The Bill be amended to allow the age limit of self-referral to be altered in future. Although the Committee is satisfied with the age limit of 16, it recognises there are legitimate concerns. The Scottish Parliament should therefore have the right to amend this in the future.
  • The Bill focus on the importance of easy access to necessary information, supporting individuals in making informed choices. 
  • The Bill be amended to contain a statutory right to independent advocacy to ensure victims can make informed decisions.
  • That there must be a 24-hour, 7-day, forensic medical examination service. 
  • That NHS Scotland produce an annual report on the progress and effectiveness of forensic medical examinations.

Background

The Health and Sport Committee sought views on the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill from 6th December 2019 to 30th January 2020.

The Bill gives health boards functions relating to the provision of forensic medical services to victims of sexual offences (and harmful sexual behaviour by children under the age of criminal responsibility).

A forensic medical examination looks for evidence that can be used in any subsequent investigation or court proceedings.

More details of the Bill can be found here:

https://beta.parliament.scot/bills/forensic-medical-services-victims-of-sexual-offences-scotland-bill

More information on the Committee’s consideration and the report can be found here:

https://parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/113871.aspx

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