By Claire Buckie and Emma Bryce
Securing rape convictions in Scotland is notoriously difficult, with a current conviction rate of only 3.9%, according to Rape Crisis Scotland. As second year Napier University journalism students we were somewhat nervous as we went to experience the reality of a live trial at Edinburgh High Court, a trial which turned out to be a rape trial and which we would watch unfold dramatically in front of our eyes as the lives of many individuals changed so suddenly as we sat in silence in the public gallery. This was the first trial we had sat in on and we were there to understand the complexity of court procedures, the particular challenges of court reporting and other journalism skills such as accuracy, objectivity, fairness and balance.
The trial of Ian Matthew Hopton, 42, of Kirkcaldy finished at Edinburgh High Court last Tuesday. The jury of 15 found Hopton guilty by a majority. Hopton has now been remanded in custody awaiting sentencing, which is due to take place on November 26th.
Afterwards, we spoke to our fellow journalism students about their thoughts on live court reporting. Mairi Thomson, 19, said: “It was beneficial to see what really happens in court, it was also a real insight into the complicated ordeal people appearing there have to go through.”
Having watched some of the evidence given, including police forensic science evidence, we were very apprehensive before the verdict. One student, Nargis Lalee, even said she had butterflies before the jury revealed the verdict. She commented: “I felt that I got too attached to the case”, which of course is easy for anyone to do and as journalists we know that we have to be professional and detached about anything we are reporting.
The trial has also made us reflect on the nature of justice. Since the attack took place last year, the accused had been on bail with a curfew from 8pm and 8am. This also made us think about how much the accused’s life had changed over the past year. He lost his job and had restrictions to when he can and cannot be in public. But then there was the safety and peace of mind of the victim and the wider public to be considered. In each decision the court had taken along the way there were complex factors of many lives to weigh up and consider, none of which could be taken lightly.
We found the rape trial to be very challenging and began to appreciate the issues journalists face when reporting on such a case. We noticed the difficulties of hearing two sides of a very in-depth story without having a biased attitude or pre-conceived assumptions. We also began to appreciate some of the complex issues that come with rape trials. There are many limitations with regards to which evidence should be considered and deliberations into whether a person may be being untruthful. There is also so much evidence for the jury to take into consideration in order to give a fair hearing to both the complainant and the accused. Natural instincts or reflexes must be dismissed and corroborated facts must overrule everything. Even though we have only witnessed this one trial so far, we now both feel that court reporting could be the line of work that we wish to follow, once we graduate. It has definitely opened our eyes to something that we had never thought deeply about, before our experiences this week.