The news that cases of murder and culpable homicide have fallen to one of the lowest levels since comparable records began more than 40 years ago provides some encouragement that Scotland’s violence prevention strategy has been the right one.
But it offers no room for complacency. Scotland’s public health approach to reducing violence – which treats it as an infection that can be cured – has been developed and strengthened over more than 12 years. The approach has been held up by the World Economic Forum, and drawn interest in other nations including Canada, Australia, America, and Japan.
Closer to home, this week saw the first meeting of Greater London’s Violence Reduction Unit partnership – launched earlier this year following discussions with Scotland’s own National VRU about our experience in transforming how police, wider public services and communities themselves work together to tackle, reduce and prevent serious violence.
I wish the London authorities well as they adapt to meet the particular challenges in London, and I am keen to follow their progress since Scotland can always learn from the experiences of others.
Of course, cases of homicide are relatively rare compared to most offences – even other serious crimes – so it has always been important to look beyond any single year-on-year fluctuation to try to understand what is happening and what works.
The difference between a violent scuffle ending in a brief visit to Accident & Emergency, or resulting in death can sometimes be relatively small. So we have looked to make progress across all indicators of violence – challenging and changing attitudes, and tackling the misnomer of ‘casual violence’.
We must help people break free from cycles of violence, and in so doing, reduce the number of victims and affected communities.
We continue to research, to learn and to invest, to work relentlessly to drive down violent crime wherever it persists, investing in education and prevention programmes, while ensuring law enforcement agencies are empowered to deal with those who harm others.
Over the last decade, crimes of handling an offensive weapon recorded by police have fallen by two-thirds, while cases of attempted murder and serious assault are more than a third lower than ten years ago.
Both hospital A&E admissions and Scottish Crime & Justice Surveys – each of which capture incidents not reported to police – confirm the long-term downward trend in violence across Scotland.
But no violent incident is inevitable and above all, one death from violence is one too many.
So while the latest statistics showed there were fewer victims compared to the previous year, this still meant 59 families were needlessly left grieving for their loved-one.
The Scottish Government recognises the enormous trauma experienced by families bereaved by murder and culpable homicide. That is why we are currently funding Victim Support Scotland to develop and deliver a bespoke service for these families, ensuring that they have access to dedicated and continuous support.
I will also be chairing a new taskforce to drive improvements to victims’ experiences of the justice system.
In my first few months as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, I have heard directly from a number of people who have lost a loved-one to violence. My sympathies and condolences are with them and all those bereaved in such circumstances.
We owe it to them to ensure not only that the justice system responds effectively and compassionately to their loss, but that we continue to do all we can, through education and enforcement, to tackle violence and prevent more needless loss of life.
Humza Yousaf is Cabinet Secretary for Justice