A RISING number of criminals are escaping court and instead being dealt with by social workers, official statistics have shown.
The number of cases taken out of the court system has jumped by 75 per cent, from 956 when the SNP took power in 2007, to 1,664 in 2013.
This “sends out the wrong message” to offenders, according to opposition parties, who say the prospect of ending up in jail is becoming “more and more remote” under the Nationalist administration.
But the Scottish Government has defended the practice and says that alternatives to jail can reduce the prospect of re-offending for minor offences.
When cases are “diverted from prosecution”, and instead dealt with by social workers, it means offenders can be placed on schemes to help them with issues like anger management, parenting skills, lifestyle management and even budgeting.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said justice secretary Kenny MacAskill is presiding over a “shambolic justice system”.
She said: “An increasing number of people committing a crime are being diverted from prosecution, never mind being brought before an actual court.
“While there will be genuine cases where it makes sense to send someone to social work to be dealt with, the massive rise in the number of people removed from the court system since the SNP came to power is concerning.”
A recent swathe of court closures has resulted in greater delays in cases going to court within the target of 26 weeks, while more than £23 million of court fines is still owed by criminals.
Mrs Mitchell added: “We now have a situation created by the SNP where many criminals are being fined rather than jailed – and not even having to pay the money owed – or taken out of the court system altogether to be dealt with by social work.
“And, even those going through the justice system are taking longer to be dealt with because so many of our courts have been axed. This is sending out the entirely wrong message to those committing a crime that the chances of actually ending up with a custodial sentence are becoming more and more remote under the SNP.”
A small number of cases are referred to alcohol and drug treatment courses, and mental health services.
The figures also showed a vast disparity in the number of cases being diverted from prosecution, depending on which part of the country a person lived.
For example, in 2012-13 in the Lothian and Borders region there were 739 cases diverted, while in Glasgow there were 136.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Evidence shows using non-custodial options to deal with minor offending can be more effective in preventing re-offending.”
Scotland’s prosecution service, the Crown Office, said diversion to social services is only considered where court action is “not appropriate.”
In 2012-13 there were 1664 cases for social work diversion out of 281,000 reports received.