Domestic abuse cases putting strain on Scotland's courts

Scotland's courts are being overburdened with domestic abuse cases which have no realistic prospect of a conviction, it has been claimed.

The SPF's Calum Steele said many cases had no prospect of conviction

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said couples could no longer have a row without one of them “leaving in handcuffs”.

The organisation, which represents rank and file officers, said decisions were being taken to proceed with cases where there was insufficient evidence and no chance of a conviction.

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But the union representing prosecutors said the suggestion was an “attack on their professional dignity”.

Appearing before MSPs on Holyrood justice committee, Calum Steele, general secretary of the SPF, said the professional discretion of police officers and prosecutors was being ignored due to a policy decision to afford domestic abuse cases a higher priority.

Mr Steele said: “These are policy decisions which impact on police demand from the very beginning and then impact on court demand and staff in marking papers and getting witnesses to court for a case which is never going to see a conviction.”

He said the justice system was going through a “charade” of progressing cases knowing full well they would not result in a conviction.

He added: “For services where staff are under pressure of time to go through that rigmarole, whilst that might suit a policy objective, does not seem very pragmatic in terms of utilising the resources you have.

“It would be inappropriate for me to speak for fiscals, but we heard earlier [in the committee] there was a perception that there was a lack of discretion.

“If I was to draw a parallel with the police service in these cases, there is absolutely a lack of discretion.

“We have got to a stage in Scotland where couples can’t have a row in their house. If they do and the police are informed, there is a very strong likelihood one of them is leaving in handcuffs.”

He added: “There are understandable reasons why the police and Crown Office focus on domestic violence has changed massively over the years, of course there are.

“But are we really saying we’re best served having families and relationships having interference from the criminal justice system because someone phoned the police on overhearing raised voices?”

But Rachel Weir, vice president of the Procurators Fiscal Society, said: “In the almost 19 years I have been a prosecutor, I have never once initiated proceedings in a case where I didn’t think a crime had been committed or where I didn’t think there was a sufficiency of evidence. There is not a policy in the world that would direct one of our members to do such a thing.

“We’re all working to the same goal of ensuring justice is served. The suggestion that prosecutors in Scotland are initiating proceedings in cases where there is an insufficiency of evidence is certainly not matched by my experience or any of our members and is in many ways an attack on their professional dignity.”

Her colleague Fiona Eadie added: “It’s worth noting that our policy on the prosecution of domestic abuse is supported by organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. It is effectively a zero tolerance policy, which I think is absolutely right in a modern Scotland.”