THOUSANDS of criminal cases in Scotland have been dropped because of police delays in filing their reports to prosecutors, new figures have revealed.
Alleged offences that have slipped through the net because of the errors include drug dealing, under-age sex, drink driving and firearms charges.
These figures suggest there’s something much more serious going onThomas Ross QC
Almost 4,000 charges were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator-Fiscal Service (COPFS) outwith the legal time frames over the past six years, leaving prosecutors with no choice but to scrap proceedings.
Other crimes which have not been prosecuted within the six to 12-month period known as the time bar include electoral fraud and animal cruelty.
Lawyers have described the delays as “astonishing” and called for Police Scotland to take action to improve their reporting procedures.
Thomas Ross QC, president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, said: “It seems extraordinary that they would take so long to report. If it was an isolated incident then you could accept that mistakes happen, but we’re talking thousands of cases here.
“How would a victim feel if they were to ask about their case only to be told by the Crown ‘we can’t do anything because the police were too late in reporting it’? It’s astonishing.
“In any bureaucratic process people are going to make mistakes, but these figures suggest there’s something much more serious going on.”
The figures show a total of 3,850 charges were reported to the Crown outwith the time frames between 2008-09 and 2013-14. A total of 763 were submitted in 2013-14, the first year of the single police force, which saw the highest number of time-barred cases since 2008-09. A total of 270,397 crimes were recorded that year, with late reports accounting for just under 0.3 per cent.
The data shows that six under-age sex charges were reported to COPFS too late within the six-year period, while there were seven firearms offences, 112 drug-dealing charges, 37 drink- driving cases and ten animal welfare charges.
One offence involving false information being given to an electoral registration officer was also reported outwith the time frame in 2013-14.
Advocate Brian McConnachie QC, formerly a senior prosecutor with Crown Office, said that while the inability to prosecute does not matter in some very minor offences, delays in reporting certain charges, such as drug dealing, need to be explained.
He said the drink-driving figures also suggests “there may be a number of people out there driving who ought not to be”.
Police Scotland said it aims to report offences within 28 days, but is sometimes prevented from doing so because of evidential issues.
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “In 2013-14, a total of 270,397 crimes were recorded yet only 763 charges were time-barred, which is less than 0.28 per cent.”
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