How long should sexual offence medical evidence be kept?

26 February, 2021

As part of Victims Awareness Week, Lynda Dobinson from the Chief Medical Officer Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce of the Scottish Government writes about the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021 and the consultation into the period of time health boards should hold evidence for rape and sexual assault survivors.

Improving healthcare services for victim-survivors of sexual offences is a priority for the Scottish Government. The landmark Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021 (FMS Act) was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament on 10 December 2020.

The FMS Act requires health boards to give victims of all ages access to trauma-informed, person-centred forensic medical services.

A key part of this is making sure forensic medical services are available for people who have experienced rape or sexual assault who don’t initially want police involvement – this service is called ‘self-referral’.  The FMS Act will make self-referral available to all people over 16 and will mean that certain forensic evidence can be collected and kept securely by health boards in case victim-survivors want to make a police report later.

A key driver behind this is the view that self-referral empowers victim-survivors, giving them greater choice and control. This may positively influence their decision to report the crime to the police while making sure they are able  to access appropriate healthcare services following the crime.

The Chief Medical Officer Taskforce is also developing the necessary resources to support the implementation of self-referral. This includes a robust self-referral protocol for health boards on how to maintain the ‘chain of evidence’ in a way that meets the requirements of the Scottish criminal justice system.

Consultation regarding the period of time evidence is kept

To enable the Act to come into legal effect we need to determine, amongst other things, how long health boards should retain evidence collected from a self-referral forensic medical examination.

This is where we need your help. The Chief Medical Officer Taskforce has recommended an evidence retention period of 26 months (two years, two months). This is based on examples of best practice elsewhere in the UK.

We have published a full public consultation to seek views on this recommendation because it’s essential that people, especially those with direct or indirect experience of rape and sexual assault, share their thoughts with us about the length of time health boards should keep evidence collected in the course of self-referral services.

You can find both the full consultation paper and an easy read summary, which we produced with People First Scotland, on the Scottish Government’s consultation hub, Citizen Space.

Please consider responding. The consultation only takes a few minutes to complete and we will not share your views without your permission.

Find out more about the FMS Act on our updated website.

Victim Support Scotland is here to help anyone affected by crime. If you need support, please contact us via our helpline (0800 160 1985), our webchat service (see bottom right) or our contact form.