ACCESS to justice for victims of domestic abuse is being “seriously constrained” by court closures and delays, it has been warned.
Scottish Women’s Aid said improvements in the way police dealt with domestic violence were being undermined by insufficient court resources to deal with an increase in cases.
The warning came in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee on the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2015-16.
The campaign group said it was concerned by figures showing the proportion of all sheriff court cases dealt with within the target of 26 weeks had fallen from 75.7 per cent in 2009-10 to 70.9 per cent in 2013-14.
The submission said the Scottish Court Service had itself acknowledged a significant increase in domestic abuse and sexual offences cases.
“Police response to domestic abuse has improved significantly and there is a consequent increase in the number of reported incidents of domestic abuse that are converted to crimes,” it said.
“More cases are reported to the procurator-fiscal, and more of these are being proceeded with at court. Therein lies the challenge. There is insufficient court resource to deal with the increase in cases referred for proceedings and as a result, cases are delayed by up to eight months in some jurisdictions.”
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Last month, prosecution staff said the criminal justice system was being put at “huge risk” by funding cuts at a time of increasing workload.
The Procurators Fiscal Society (PFS) said that despite an increase in the Crown Office’s overall budget, the money for staffing remained at £69.1 million, a real-terms cut of £1.1m.
Scottish Women’s Aid said court closures and delays in the implementation of a new court IT system had left access to justice “seriously constrained” for some women.
Last month, the PFS said about 70 per cent of the work dealt with by those in the Crown Office’s High Court unit related to sexual offending, cases which could be complex and time-consuming. Police Scotland’s increased focus on tackling domestic abuse had also increased the number of complex cases, it said.
The PFS said a reduction in the staff budget would lead to personnel cuts. Analysis of criminal case reports from the police in 2013-14 had shown a 5 per cent increase from 2012-13 (from 280,942 to 293,672).
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Court closures are an operational matter for the Scottish Court Service [SCS].
“However, 95 per cent of court business is unaffected by recent changes to court structures and SCS has confirmed they have capacity within courts to deal with current and anticipated cases.
“There has been no reduction in judicial or court staff as a result of the court closures. Police, prosecutors and courts are dealing robustly with cases, including domestic abuse and sexual offences, however prosecution of such offences can be complex and sensitive.”
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