‘Courses not court for domestic abuse cases’

Sir Stephen House: 'We can't just hope it goes away'. Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Stephen House: 'We can't just hope it goes away'. Picture: Robert Perry
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SCOTLAND’S police chief has proposed a radical shift in the way domestic abuse is handled across the country, including dealing with perpetrators by using methods that avoid the courtroom.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has suggested offenders go on courses to help change their behaviour rather than being sent to prison.

He also called for a change in the government’s approach, so domestic abuse cases are handled by the Justice Department rather than Equalities, and said an increase in funding was necessary to tackle the issue.

Sir Stephen said: “I don’t believe every domestic abuse incident needs to go to court. There are a great many that could be diverted into counselling, relationship guidance or, in some instances, behavioural change just to help people cope. But my officers have got to act on every case. What we cannot do is continue to do what we had done for decades, to just hope it will go away.”

He added: “I think it is uncharted territory; if people are diverted before or at court, or sheriffs divert people to mandatory courses, I would be happy to take part in an initiative on this.”

The police chief added: “We need to try it and see, but there will always be a proportion of perpetrators that need to go down the custodial route.”

Sir Stephen said many victims of domestic abuse did not want it ending up in court.

He said: “Many of the victims are not keen on their partner being locked up because they are the breadwinner.” He suggested special bail conditions could be a solution.

Figures released last week showed incidents of domestic abuse across Scotland increased slightly in the past year.

The Chief Constable’s comments were yesterday met with concern by Scottish Women’s Aid, which said it felt more research was needed.

Its manager, Lily Greenan, said: “We’re very wary of pre-court diversion and wonder if it would be appropriate across the whole of Scotland. Most of the work done [by police] on this idea has been located in the west, and we don’t have the same level of response across Scotland.

“A fair bit of work would need to be done to identify if this is an appropriate response nationwide. The timing doesn’t feel right; maybe in three or four years, but not after only a year operating as Police Scotland.”

Ms Greenan said she would support a move to look at how to define what constituted domestic abuse.

“If you consider two people fighting with each other, who aren’t scared of each other, this is perhaps something that can be treated differently.”

Ms Greenan pointed out attempts to deal with domestic abuse outside courts in the 1980s and 1990s had already failed, with charities successfully lobbying for them to be scrapped.

Responding to Sir Stephen’s suggestion domestic abuse should be overseen by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill rather than equalities minister Shona Robison, Ms Greenan said it would not be constructive because incidents needed to be looked at in relation to possible links with inequality.

There were 60,080 domestic abuse incidents recorded by police in the year to the end of March 2013, compared with 59,847 in 2011-12.

Half of them led to the recording of an actual crime or offence, of which 78 per cent were reported to the procurator fiscal.