There was a time, not that long ago, when the notion of women being at the forefront of taking on the criminal world would have been unthinkable.
But this week it was announced the two top jobs in the Crown Office will be held by women.
Dorothy Bain QC and Ruth Charteris QC will lead Scotland’s prosecution service after being appointed Lord Advocate and Solicitor General respectively.
It got me thinking about changing dynamics in law enforcement – but also how there is still a long way to go for women to smash more stereotypes.
A Google search for female crime-fighters brings up all kinds of fictional TV detectives and world-weary heroines in books but very little in the way of real-life women at the sharp end of the justice system.
Bain is probably best known for nailing serial killer Peter Tobin and securing his first conviction for murdering Polish student Angelika Kluk but there are so many other strings to her bow.
A strong advocate for victims, she challenged the Crown in court over its refusal to charge Harry Clarke over the bin lorry crash in Glasgow’s George Square in 2018.
She also successfully prosecuted eight men who had formed Scotland’s largest paedophile network and secured the prosecution of a Scots firm for breaching UN Iraq sanctions.
In 2008, Bain was commissioned by the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General to report on and make recommendations on the prosecution of sex crimes in Scotland, the outcome of which led to the formation of Scotland’s National Sexual Crimes Unit in 2009.
It’s an area where conviction rates remain stubbornly low and there is a sense that women who are most frequently the victims aren’t getting the justice they deserve due to the way cases are dealt with.
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A recent review by Lady Dorrian has called for a specialist court to deal with rape cases.
Bain’s track record in this area speaks for itself so her appointment will be welcomed by groups dealing with sexual violence.
However, confidence and morale in the prosecution service has never been lower and part of her new job will be to confront head-on controversies such as those surrounding a series of civil cases connected to the takeover of Rangers FC in 2012, which also saw two men wrongly prosecuted.
She will also have to get to grips with the scandalous failures of the Crown Office to make decisions on high-profile fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) into cases such as the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh and the tragic deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill in the M9 crash – both in 2015.
Their families are still awaiting decisions from the Crown on whether there will be inquiries into the circumstances of their deaths.
As a crime reporter, the biggest complaint I hear from families is how they are treated when they are already at their lowest.
Having women at the very top of the organisation might bring about some empathy for the way victims – intimidated already by a system that feels daunting and unintelligible to them – are treated.
It’s not helped by historic refusals to explain why certain things happen the way they do.
Sometimes this is for legal reasons but more often it feels like a cultural unwillingness to be held accountable to the public.
For a justice system to work, it needs to be a strong moral force, weighing evidence on merit alone and blind to a person’s wealth, power, gender and race.
It doesn’t always feel like that is the case in Scotland.
But, with a reputation as someone who has a keen interest in civil liberties, human rights and who has worked tirelessly on behalf of victims and their families, I can’t think of anyone more suitable to lead the charge for a more modern and revised prosecution system in Scotland.
It’s true to say the wheels of justice may turn very slowly but Bain may just bring the fresh injection of energy and empathy that is so very badly needed.
The Luke Mitchell saga continues...
Last week, while I was on holiday, a story broke surrounding the fury of Jodi Jones’s family regarding the use of her image as part of the “Luke Mitchell is innocent” campaign.
As per usual, I was bombarded with not-so-polite communications from the supporters decrying my failure to forego the legal status of his conviction and agree with their armchair sleuthing conclusion that he is completely innocent.
To take things even further, they’ve now started openly naming the people they believe to be responsible.
Yes, I said people, because there’s not just one suspect but literally half a dozen.
The whole thing makes me despair. Convicted of murder, four failed appeals and thanks to a TV documentary, suddenly everyone and their aunty is a criminal expert.
There are so many mistruths being peddled to people who think they know it all when they know nothing.
It pains me to say this but maybe, despite the waste of public money that it would be, a further fifth appeal with the evidence scrutinised again and the inevitable rejection that will follow might be the only way to restore some common sense and logic.
Do you think the door would be slammed in our faces?
Massive thanks to the lovely Emilia Fox for standing in for me last week and writing this column.
She’s busy filming a new movie and is currently top of the crime charts with her TV series on
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Channel 4 – In the Footsteps of Killers – and smashing the podcast charts with If It Bleeds, It Leads, so I was grateful she said, “Yes” and added another string to her bow.
I hope the readers enjoyed it.
Emilia is desperate to come to Scotland and see how crime reporters work.
She wants to do a door-knock with me. Can you imagine the scenes if I’m confronting some scary criminal with Silent Witness’s Nikki Alexander at my back?
Do you think the door would be slammed in our faces – or would we get the scoop of the year?
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