Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell hits out at delays in 'inefficient' Scottish courts as overtime bill soars to £3 million

She says change ‘not happening fast enough’

The chief constable of Police Scotland has said judicial change is not happening fast enough with overtime spend on officers’ attendance at court adding up to £3 million in the past year despite the majority not being required to give evidence.

Jo Farrell described the Scottish judicial system as “very inefficient” compared to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England, despite efforts in Glasgow Sheriff Court and Dundee Sheriff Courts, which she said were led by “very forward thinking” individuals.

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Ms Farrell also said plans to reduce resources spent on 101 calls under a ‘proportionate response’ model were due to be rolled out imminently across the country enabling a focus on “frontline policing” including probes into organised crime, while reports of fraud, cyber offences, and online sex abuse of children were expected to increase.

Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell briefs officers before going out on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WirePolice Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell briefs officers before going out on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell briefs officers before going out on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

She also pledged to cut time spent on mental health calls which could be as frequent as three or four calls per minute on a busy day, compared to domestic abuse calls once every eight minutes.

Ms Farrell said officers would take those in distress to “third party support” but described provisions as a “postcode lottery”.

She said the demands of mental health calls was consuming time equivalent to 600 police officers per year, out of a service of around 16,000.

She also said the demands of court attendance was placing a strain on officers’ family lives as well as costly overtime payments.

Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre.Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WirePolice Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre.Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre.Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Ms Farrell said she “welcomed” work done by the Sheriff Principals of Glasgow Sheriff Court and Dundee Sheriff Court to improve efficiencies, but said it was “not fast enough”, and that victims were often asking officers “why is this happening” due to repeated delays.

She described police officers as “the visible part of the criminal justice system” for distressed victims facing repeated delays.

Ms Farrell said: “A roads policing officers said to me in the early weeks I was here, each time that case gets adjourned it’s the victim of the case who says to the police ‘Why is this happening?’.

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“Their lives have been disrupted and their lives have been put on hold.

Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell, with inspector Jonathan Watters, on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WirePolice Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell, with inspector Jonathan Watters, on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell, with inspector Jonathan Watters, on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

“What I’ve observed is a system that’s very inefficient.

“That is having a significant impact on policing, it is not joined up at all.”

Asked if a Scottish Police Federation description of “reactive policing” was accurate Ms Farrell said: “I think they make a fair point.

“Some of the challenge that goes with it is partly in relation to mental health – every three to four minutes there’s a call of that nature coming into our control rooms.

“The other thing that I’ve been very surprised at is the amount of money time and resources we have to dedicate around officers going being called into court to give evidence.

“We spent £3 million on overtime and I would estimate a third of those officers were on rest days or annual leave.

“When they call to court, and this is a conservative estimate, only 15 per cent of them will give evidence and then they’ll be called again and again.

“This is happening to victims and witnesses and members of the public.”

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Ms Farrell said hate crime reports had increased in line with the expanded range of protected characteristics, but had tailed off from a deluge of mostly anonymous complaints when the new law was introduced in April. It was reported over the weekend that hate crime complaints had hit 10,000 since the legislation was introduced on April 1, with 90 per cent not regarded as a crime by police.

Police unions and opposition politicians have raised concerns about the drain on hard-pressed Police Scotland resources in dealing with the new law.

Of the total complaints, Ms Farrell said: “The vast proportion of it was anonymous, we had dedicated teams in our communications rooms to manage that.

“So now as we get to the new norm, as I’ll call it, we have seen an increase in hate crime as an extension in terms of the number of protected characteristics.”

On Friday evening Ms Farrell accompanied officers on foot patrol in Glasgow city centre and thanked them for their “hard work” on the force.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “We work with Police Scotland, and the courts service who schedule trials, to have witness availability taken into account when trials are fixed.

“We also work with the police to ensure that cases are ready to proceed.

“COPFS believes effective case management has the capacity to transform the experience of witnesses in the justice system and reduce unnecessary attendance.