Police Scotland defends domestic abuse policy at Holyrood

Four out of five domestic abuse charges leads to a conviction
Four out of five domestic abuse charges leads to a conviction
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Four out of every five domestic abuse charges in the past year led to a conviction, according to Police Scotland.

Appearing before Holyrood’s justice committee, Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins said of 34,000 charges brought in 2015/16, 80 per cent led to a conviction.

Mr Higgins was defending his force’s approach to tackling the issue after the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) last week told MSPs that officers were no longer allowed to use their own discretion when it came to domestic abuse cases.

Mr Higgins said that of 58,000 domestic incidents recorded by the police in 2015/16, 29,000 were recorded as criminal, leading to 34,000 separate charges.

He said just 2.5 per cent of cases reported by the police to the Crown Office were not proceeded with by prosecutors.

He told MSPs: “We have taken a very robust approach to dealing with domestic abuse offenders in conjunction with the lord advocate’s guidelines.

“We might make an arrest and the prosecutors decide not to prosecute but that doesn’t mean people are getting arrested without good reason, far from it.

“By any stretch an 80 per cent conviction rate is pretty high. Having, 58,000 domestic incidents and dealing criminally with about 51 per cent of them shows there is absolutely an appropriate and proportionate response.

“The notion that every time we are called to a domestic incident we have to arrest someone is simply not the case.”

Last week, SPF general secretary Calum Steele said couples could no longer have a row without one of them “leaving in handcuffs” if the police are called.

He said decisions were being taken to proceed with cases where there was insufficient evidence and no chance of a conviction.

But Mr Higgins said officers were still able to exercise their own professional judgement.

He said: “To say that every time our officers go to a call they’re predisposed to thinking someone will leave in handcuffs, I just don’t see that.”

He added: “The officers will make a professional assessment of whether a criminal act has happened. If there is criminality, they will investigate that like any other crime and if there’s a sufficiency, they will arrest.”

He added: “The conviction rate tends to suggest that those cases reported to the Crown are strongly evidenced.”

Last month Scotland’s bar associations warned of a “leeching away” of the discretion of prosecutors in deciding which cases to take to court.