Domestic abuse charges at highest level in four years
Domestic abuse and stalking charges in Scotland are at their highest level in four years.
New figures covering the year ending March 31, 2020, show that there were 30,718 charges – 5.7 per cent higher than the previous year and the highest level since 2015-16.
In 92 per cent of cases, the decision was made to prosecute the accused, up from 85 per cent in 2013-14.
Breach of the peace-type offences, including threatening and abusive behaviour, and stalking offences, were the most common (35 per cent), followed by common assault (28 per cent) and crimes against public justice such as bail offences (15 per cent).
Around 3.5 per cent of domestic abuse charges – 1,065 – were brought under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 which came into effect on April 1 last year. It created a new statutory offence of engaging in a course of behaviour which is abusive towards a partner or ex-partner. Ninety six per cent of these charges were prosecuted.
The figures also show that the proportion of cases where no action was taken has fallen steadily, from 11 per cent (4,000 cases) in 2013/14 to five per cent (just over 1,500 cases) last year.
The figures only cover the first few days of lockdown so do not reflect trends during most of the period when the population was confined to home. There has been widespread concern that lockdown put domestic abuse survivors at increased risk and made it harder for them to get help.
Solicitor General for Scotland Alison Di Rollo QC said the 2018 act “broke ground in addressing the true dynamics of abusive behaviour to which too many victims are subjected”.
She said: “This legislation has allowed the prosecution of a range of coercive and controlling behaviours which are so harmful to victims, but which were not previously criminal.
“Courts can now consider the totality of behaviour when sentencing, better reflecting the lived experience of victims and children.
“Police and prosecutors in Scotland have undergone extensive training on this legislation, and will continue to work closely together, and with victim support agencies, to ensure that the prosecution of domestic abuse is as effective as possible and that victims are supported through the process.”
Anne Marie Hicks, national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse, said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service takes a rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and stalking, and we are committed to prosecuting these crimes effectively and fairly. This includes a presumption in favour of prosecution where there is sufficient evidence to support a criminal allegation.
“Prosecutors recognise the devastating impact these crimes can have on those affected and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal, including the ground-breaking legislation introduced last year, to prosecute domestic abuse.
“While the figures published today do not cover the period of lockdown, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic upon the justice system, particularly the ability to progress criminal trials, has been significant and we recognise the impact of delays and uncertainty on victims. We will continue to work closely with justice partners and victim support organisations on a system-wide response to the challenges of the pandemic to ensure the justice system fully recovers, and cases progress as efficiently as possible.
“I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of domestic abuse or stalking to report this to police and seek support.”
Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women's Aid, said: “Implementing Scotland’s new world-leading domestic abuse law has been a huge undertaking for every cog in Scotland’s justice system. The Crown Office have been an enthusiastic and insightful partner in transforming Scotland's response to domestic abuse generally and coercive control specifically, and today's figures are welcome evidence of that.
"Over 1000 prosecutions in the first year of implementation is impressive, particularly when compared to other jurisdictions with similar legislation. We especially welcome the fact that court proceedings were commenced in 96 per cent of the charges reported under the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act.
"We're encouraged by early use of the innovative child aggravator, however we'd like to work with Police Scotland and our colleagues in the Crown Office to gather further information on how children are faring under this new law.
"There are undoubtedly still lessons to be learned in how the justice system responds to survivors of domestic abuse. We are particularly wary that the current backlog in courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to undo many years of progress on access to justice for those who have experienced domestic abuse and we will continue to work with colleagues from across the justice system to make the necessary improvements in this regard."